WASHINGTON - In a solemn ceremony, President Trump and congressional leaders paid tribute to the Rev. Billy Graham Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, calling him "America's pastor" who connected with millions worldwide as he preached with humility.

As the body of the evangelical leader lay in honor in the Rotunda, Trump and congressional leaders delivered brief speeches praising Graham and Congress' chaplains offered prayers. Lawmakers then filed past Graham's casket, pausing at times for prayer.

In a rare moment of public self-reflection, Trump recalled for the crowd the time that his own father took him to see Graham preach at Yankee Stadium in New York in 1957.

"My father said to me, 'Come on, son' - and, by the way, he said, 'Come on, mom. Let's go see Billy Graham at Yankee Stadium.' And it was something very special," he said. "But Americans came in droves to hear that great young preacher. Fred Trump was a big fan. Fred Trump was my father."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, "The man we recognize today may well have shared the Gospel with more people, face-to-face, than anyone else in history."

"Billy Graham lifted up our nation, not because he occupied the spotlight so masterfully - but because he knew he wasn't the one who belonged in it," McConnell added. "He was just a happy instrument in the hands of his creator."

Like McConnell, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., called Graham, "America's pastor."

"A man made great, not by who he was, but by who he served, with all of his heart and all of his soul and all of his mind," Ryan said.

With the late minister's family in attendance, Trump, the first lady, Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers stood silently as Graham's casket was placed on a raised box called a catafalque that was constructed by the Capitol's official architect. It is made of wood and draped in a black cloth.

Most of Trump's Cabinet attended the ceremony as did many - but not all - members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. The House recessed Tuesday evening in tribute to Graham, meaning many lawmakers likely left Washington instead of staying for the event. Some Senate hearings were underway elsewhere on Capitol Hill during the ceremony.

Among other guests, dozens of ambassadors attended the ceremony as did Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and former Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va., and his wife, Lynda Bird Johnson, whose father, former president Lyndon B. Johnson, laid in honor in January 1973.

From 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. the Rotunda will be open to the public to visit and pay respects. Visitors are asked to enter through the Capitol Visitors Center. Graham's body will remain in place overnight and leave the Capitol on Thursday morning.

The 99-year-old world-renowned evangelical leader died Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. Private and national tributes have poured in for more than a week.

As his body was driven Saturday from Asheville, North Carolina, to Charlotte, the motorcade was greeted by thousands of admirers along the route, including many waving Bibles and U.S. flags. On Monday and Tuesday at his family library, thousands of people - including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton - came to pay respects.

Graham will be buried Friday in a private family service in Charlotte, which Trump is scheduled to attend.

The honor in the Rotunda is exceedingly rare. The tradition began with Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay in 1852 and was held most recently for the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, in 2012.

The remains of unknown soldiers from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War have been granted the honor, as have 10 U.S. presidents - from Abraham Lincoln to Gerald R. Ford. In 1998, Congress granted use of the Rotunda for two Capitol Police officers killed while on duty to "lie in honor."

Graham becomes just the fourth private citizen - after Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the planner of the District of Columbia; former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover; and civil rights activist Rosa Parks - to "lie in honor." He is the first member of the clergy to receive the tribute.

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Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.


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