Bill Haber  /  AP
Billy Graham delivers his message Thursday at a prayer service in New Orleans. Graham was deeply affected by the scale of the destruction he saw there.
updated 3/9/2006 8:16:42 PM ET 2006-03-10T01:16:42

Evangelist Billy Graham, whose ministry has taken him to some of the world’s least-developed countries, said Thursday that the scope of devastation he saw as he toured hurricane-ravaged New Orleans this week left him speechless.

“I cannot imagine what those people have been through,” Graham said during an interview with The Associated Press, a day after he was shown some of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. “This is a far greater disaster than the average American understands.”

Graham came to New Orleans for an event this weekend organized by local ministers and his son, Franklin Graham, now head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Billy Graham plans to preach Sunday, his first public sermon since June, when he led his final revival meeting in New York City.

The 87-year-old minister has preached to more than 210 million people in 185 countries and has counseled generations of U.S. presidents and world leaders. He has written 25 books, including “The Journey,” which was released this week.

Old and young
In more recent years, however, Graham has suffered from fluid on his brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease. He has largely been confined to his home in Montreat, N.C., where his wife is now an invalid, he said Thursday.

“I’m 87 years old now, and I feel every day of it sometimes. Other times, I feel like a young man again,” he said before addressing about 800 pastors and family members gathered at a New Orleans church.

He needed the aid of his son and others to shuffle to the pulpit — the same one he used during a 1954 revival meeting here. But once stood before the assembly, gripping the oak pulpit’s sides, Graham was as generations of Christians remember him: His voice was clear and strong, he joked with the crowd and drew on biblical stories to encourage them.

City plays the role of Job
He compared New Orleans to Job, the Old Testament figure who was stripped of his children and riches but refused to curse God for his undeserved suffering. Job was later given more than he lost.

“God restored him, and God is going to do that for you. I believe that,” Graham said.

A disaster like Katrina, which hit Aug. 29 and broke the city’s flood-control system, is a mystery, said Graham, whose own home suffered damage during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. God did not cause Katrina, he said.

Why did the storm strike? “I’ll tell you the truth: I don’t know. I don’t know anybody who does know,” he said.

Graham said during the interview he believes New Orleans has a foundation on which to build a spiritual revival. He noted the Roman Catholic Church’s long presence here and the more recent work of Protestant denominations. “There’s a foundation here to build on, I think. That’s encouraging to me,” he said.

On Sunday, Graham said, he hoped to bring a simple message to New Orleans: “I just want people to know they’re loved and they’re prayed for.”

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