October 11th, 2012
04:44 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney met with evangelical icon Billy Graham for the first time on Thursday at the evangelist’s remote mountaintop home in North Carolina.
Romney traveled to Graham’s residence in Montreat, just outside Asheville, to meet with Graham and his son Franklin Graham, a high-profile pastor in his own right.
Romney campaign spokesman Rick Gorka told reporters that Romney met with the Grahams for approximately 30 minutes and that they discussed religious freedom, religious persecution and growth of the Grahams’ ministry in China, Sudan and North Korea.
Towards the end of the meeting, according to Gorka, Billy Graham led a prayer for the Romneys, saying "I'll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that."
"What impresses me even more than Governor Romney's successful career are his values and strong moral convictions. I appreciate his faithful commitment to his impressive family, particularly his wife Ann of 43 years and his five married sons," Billy Graham said in a statement through a spokesman following the meeting.
"It was a privilege to pray with Governor Romney—for his family and our country. I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms," the evangelist's statement continued.
Graham, 93, has provided counsel to generations of U.S. presidents beginning with Harry S. Truman, and is the founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Staging revivals that he called “crusades” around the world, Graham has reached untold millions of people in person with his message.
In the United States, his power and reach have transcended partisan politics. He has counseled presidents from both parties and met with President Barack Obama in 2010. Graham was hospitalized for treatment of a pulmonary infection earlier this year.
Romney first met with Franklin Graham, founder of the aid group Samaritan’s Purse, in 2007, when the Mormon White House hopeful was getting know many national evangelical leaders for the first time.
The elder Graham began his missionary work in 1944 when he started speaking at rallies for the Youth for Christ Campus Life ministry. Five years later, Graham was holding crusades in tents in downtown Los Angeles.
Originally scheduled for three weeks, the crusades drew so many followers they were extended to seven.
His "last crusade" in June 2005 drew 230,000 people.
More recently, Billy Graham has weighed in on hot-button issues, including supporting North Carolina's constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which voters passed earlier this year. This summer, Graham defended the president of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain for his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Graham has been in and out of local hospitals this year, battling respiratory issues. The pool reporter following Romney added in their report from the meeting, "Billy Graham's voice sounded somewhat weak but he did not look any more frail than his age would suggest."
CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.