The Grace of God: Billy Graham—1972, Belfast, Ireland
March 16, 2021
Categories: Billy Graham
Billy Graham was born into a family of Scots-Irish descent. As such, his ancestors’ home countries were certainly areas where he would have an interest to visit and share the Gospel message he always sought to tell.
In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham recounts his first visit to Ireland: “Long a hotbed of religious and political conflict between Protestants and Catholics, Northern Ireland was a virtual war zone as a result of bombings and armed attacks by the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).”
Billy and his team faced opposition when they first put their sights on Ireland. Local Protestant pastors implored Billy Graham to make a private visit to Northern Ireland, but the team had to carefully consider and research before they responded to the invitation. “No Crusade meetings would be possible, for security reasons (although I did preach in one church), but we felt that an expression of goodwill toward both sides might do something to defuse the dangerous situation…” said Billy.
When they first arrived in Belfast, Billy joined his friends Graham Lacey and Arthur Blessitt for a walk through Falls Road and Shankill Road. They were walking down the streets without any form of security. How will I know if they’re going to accept us?’ I asked Arthur. ‘Well, if they don’t, you’ll get a bullet in the back!’ his answer was hardly reassuring,” Billy recounted.
Billy and his friends were able to share about the love of Jesus Christ to a group of men. “In the Catholic Falls Road area, we came upon a public house with an open door. When we looked in, the Sunday morning drinkers recognized me from the newspapers and television and invited us in.” Billy goes on to say, “I told them who we were and why we had come into the Catholic district, to tell them how much God loved them. Some of them laughed at me; others whispered noisily to their neighbors at the tables; but still others, who probably should have been in church at that very moment instead of in the pub, seemed to take the words of Jesus Christ to heart. When I finished they sent us on our way with applause and a good wish for our safety.”
Shortly afterwards, the ground shook from the impact of an explosion. Billy Graham walked toward the direction of the noise and came across the dreadful sight of bodies blown apart by a bomb. Three of the dead were the terrorists who deployed the bomb, but there were other innocent bystanders who were killed as well. Many in the crowd surrounding the scene recognized Billy Graham and asked him to give the dead their last rites. Billy recounts in his autobiography, “It was not a time for theological distinctions: I knelt by each one and prayed for them. One woman said I was the first Protestant clergyman she had met. Many thanked us for coming.”
Billy’s 1972 visit throughout Northern Ireland had many memorable and historic moments, including a conversation with the leader of the Official Wing of the IRA and Cardinal Conway, the Roman Catholic primate. Billy Graham’s visit to the area did much to begin to pave the way for peace in Northern Ireland as he sought to ease tensions between the Catholics and Protestants with his simple message of God’s love.