WASHINGTON, D.C. (WBTV) - The Reverend Billy Graham is getting a rare tribute by the nation's political leaders under the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.
The Charlotte-born minister, called "America's pastor" by some, is lying in honor Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, where he counseled presidents and others over more than 60 years.
Some 30 family members are accompanying Graham's casket to Washington, where he befriended presidents of both parties and counseled others over seven decades. Graham's son, Franklin, tweeted a photo Wednesday of family members loading the casket onto a jet emblazoned with "Samaritan's Purse," the name of a Christian relief charity that he chairs.
Graham's casket was carried into the U.S. Capitol Rotunda around 11 a.m. Wednesday.
A ceremony got underway shortly after, where President Donald Trump and members of Congress honored Graham. The Graham family was also in attendance.
"Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart, like Franklin will tell you, was always in America," Trump said. The president said that Graham shared his message of faith with everyone who he met.
"We can only imagine the lives touched by Billy Graham," Trump continued, describing him as "an ambassador for Christ, who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God's grace."
"Everywhere he went he gave the same beautiful message. " "God loves you - that was his message. God loves you," Trump said.
President Trump said his father was an admirer of Graham's and that the "legendary" American figure deserved to be recognized in the place "where the memory of the American people is enshrined."
"In the spring of 1934, Billy Graham's father allowed a group of Charlotte businessmen to use a portion of the family's dairy farm to gather for a day of prayer. On that day, they prayed the Lord would raise up someone to preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth," Trump said. "Billy Graham was just 15 years old at the time. Just a few months later, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. That North Carolina farmboy walked out of those fields into a great and beautiful history."
The Rotunda entrances were draped with black fabric, and Graham's casket rested on a black-draped catafalque beneath the soaring ceiling and its painting, the "Apotheosis of Washington."
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Rev. Graham was "made great not by who he was, but by who he served."
"He shared his love of God. That love had no end. That love had no barriers. He ministered to all walks," Ryan said. "If there is any American whose life and life's work deserves to be honored by laying in honor in the U.S. Capitol, it's Billy Graham,"
Ryan invoked a passage from Book of Matthew 22:37 – "You should love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" – saying Graham "woke up every day and did just that."
"Here lies America's pastor: A man made great not by who he was, but by who he served..." Ryan said in closing.
The tribute is usually reserved for presidents. Graham is only the fourth private person to lie in honor since 1998. The others are two U.S. Capitol Police officers who died in the line of duty in 1998 and civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.
However, Graham has the distinction of being the first religious leader to be recognized at this level.
"The man we recognize today shared the Gospel with more people, face-to-face, than anyone else in history," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Prior to the benediction, President Trump and the first lady joined McConnell and Ryan in placing wreaths at each corner of Graham's casket.
Monday afternoon, the public was able to pay their final respects before, on Thursday morning, Graham's body will return to Charlotte in preparation for Friday's services.
Long lines formed outside the Capitol as admirers paid their respects.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association tweeted that Graham "spent so much time in Washington, counseling presidents and praying for the country."
Over 13,000 people attended Rev. Billy Graham's public visitation Monday and Tuesday in Charlotte.
Visitors began paying respects at 8 a.m. Monday at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. Graham's body laid in repose at the Graham Family Homeplace through Tuesday.
The homestead was built on the family's dairy farm in 1927 on Park Road and later moved to the grounds of the Billy Graham Library.
George Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush arrived just before 4 p.m. on Monday to pay tribute to Graham at the library bearing Graham's name.
Former President Bill Clinton paid his respects to the late Billy Graham on Tuesday at Graham's childhood home in Charlotte.
"While we all believe that it's faith plus nothing, he wasn't a faith plus nothing. He lived. He showed his faith by his works," Mr. Clinton said of Rev. Graham.
Mr. Clinton arrived shortly after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. Rev. Franklin Graham greeted him at the sidewalk.
The two walked inside the Graham Family Homeplace where Rev. Billy Graham's body lies in repose.
Clinton spent about 40 minutes inside, paying his respect.
After spending some time talking with Graham's son, Franklin Graham, and praying with him over the casket, Clinton talked to reporters about his history and memories with Graham.
"When I was 11 years old, 60 years ago my Sunday school teacher took me and another couple of kids in my class to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas for a Billy Graham crusade," Clinton said.
The former president recounted that the year before Little Rock Central High School had been integrated. The state was in turmoil and the white citizens council wanted Billy Graham to preach to a segregated audience
"And he said that God didn't see us that way and if that was gonna be the rules he would have to cancel the crusade and tell people why he did it and they folded quickly," Clinton told reporters.
Graham's funeral service starts at noon on Friday, March 2. The funeral will be private and open only to invited guests. Burial will follow.
Clinton, along with former presidents George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and then president George W. Bush, were all present for the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in 2007.