Billy Graham is being remembered, mourned and celebrated around a world to which he unflaggingly preached Christ's gospel with every communications technology he could tap, with a peerless evangelistic organization, and with an eloquence and sincerity that got people out of their seats to come to Jesus.
This most careful and moderate of men was praised for an evangelical zeal that many compared to the Apostle Paul's 1,800 years earlier.
"It's a blessing he's been released to be with Jesus,'' said Dana Robert, a Boston University religion professor who as a girl answered Graham's altar call at his crusade in her native Baton Rouge in 1970.
"He lived a good life,'' she said, "and he can say, as Paul did in his letter to Timothy, 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.' For him, death is not the end.''
Larry Ross, Graham's longtime spokesman, said the evangelist showed courage and faith through his long physical decline. "He was faithful to the end,'' he said. "He showed how to finish well.''
News of Graham's death spread throughout Christendom — from missionaries' huts in Africa to back-country Bible Belt churches to mighty Southern Baptist temples.
PHOTOS: Remembering Rev. Billy Graham
His life was recalled by Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Jews; by those who attended one of his crusades, or dozens; by those who only saw him on TV or heard him on the radio; by those who knew him mostly as a pastor to presidents.
"It's the passing of an era,'' said Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth College expert on evangelical Christianity. He called Graham "the most prominent religious celebrity of the 20th Century,'' a period that included popes John XXIII and John Paul II, the 14th Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Norman Vincent Peale.
Even if the audiences for his many broadcasts aren't counted, Balmer said, "he preached to more people in person than anyone in history.''
Those with some of the strongest impressions of Graham saw him at his final big public events:
Baltimore, July 2006: Craig Allen, 74, of Finksburg, Md., heard Graham's last major sermon, delivered in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "His perseverance despite his health was phenomenal. They brought him out on a cart, and they had to help him up to the mic. And then, boy, he delivered a powerful sermon. No matter how he felt, he was going to give it his all.''
New Orleans, March 2006: Michael Freeland, 59, of Metairie, La., who lost most of his real estate business after Hurricane Katrina the previous year, attended with his wife and two sons. He said Graham's presence after the storm, especially after announcing his retirement the previous year, "meant a lot to us. He was old, he'd lost his wife. You could see his frailty. But once he started to preach, you could feel an energy. That was the Holy Spirit. That was him doing something he was passionate about.''
New York City, June 2005: Maggie Rousseau and her husband, Bill, drove 14 hours from Savannah, Ga., to see Graham for the first time. Given the evangelist's health, they knew it would be the last. "There was just something about him,'' Maggie said. " I don't know what it was, but you believed him. On the crusades, on TV, he spoke, and you listened.''
But some said Graham's impact already has diminished. Several years ago, when Balmer asked one of his classes at Dartmouth if they knew who Billy Graham was, only 25% raised a hand.
Robert described him as essentially a phenomenon of the Greatest and Boomer generations.
"When I was young, the whole family watched him on television, like Walter Cronkite. When he came to town, everyone went to the crusade,'' she recalled. " But I don't think the Millennials even know who he was.''