President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence weren’t the only dignitaries and other big names at evangelist Billy Graham’s funeral.
The pope’s representative in the United States, Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre, had a front-row seat for the funeral, next to Gov. Roy Cooper, the Trumps and Pences. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, who leads the second largest Catholic diocese in the United States, was also scheduled to attend.
Other seats were reserved for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Cabinet member Ben Carson, Sen. Thom Tillis, Sen. Richard Burr, Rep. Robert Pittenger, Rep. Alma Adams, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Luci Baines Johnson and commentator Greta Van Susteren. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson also attended.
“We love him,” former Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a 2012 presidential candidate, said of Graham. Bachmann said her husband, Marcus, “came to Christ” at 16 while listening to Graham on his dairy farm.
Other big names at the funeral included Kathie Lee Gifford; evangelist Jim Bakker; Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church; country singer Ricky Skaggs; Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University; former New York Yankee Bobby Richardson; and pastor Joel Osteen.
Gifford recounted how when she learned Graham died, she was happy he could reunite with his wife, Ruth. Millions of souls were saved because of Graham’s impact, she said.
“He didn’t know until he got up (to heaven) how many people were there because he had shared the message of love and hope with them,” said Gifford, with tears forming in her eyes. “What a homecoming that had to be for him.”
Texas televangelist Joel Osteen moved through a crowd outside of the tent shortly before the service.
For Osteen, it was an honor to be present for the celebration of Graham, a man he said was a childhood hero to him and other ministers growing up.
“He’s just a genuine man, and just a visionary, a pioneer,” Osteen said. “Fifty, 60 years ago, people weren’t on television like they are today – ministers, that is. And so he’s paved the way for people like myself.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, leads the largest Catholic diocese in the United States. It is the second largest.