Evangelist Billy Graham became the first foreign Christian minister to preach in North Korea since that nation’s formation in 1948, in an unprecedented five-day trip to the East Asian communist country March 31 to April 4.

During his visit to the capital city of Pyongyang, Graham was received by North Korean President Kim Il Sung at his residential palace. Graham presented the 80-year-old socialist strongman with a Bible and a copy of his book Peace with God, and briefly discussed views on religion and philosophy.

“I found him to be a vigorous and magnetic leader,” Graham later told reporters at a news conference in Hong Kong. Graham would not disclose the details of his discussions with Kim, but he said the North Korean leader expressed an interest in improving relations with other countries, including the United States. The evangelist told reporters he had also conveyed “verbal” greetings to Kim from U.S. President George Bush and a special message from Pope John Paul II. Neither the U.S. nor the Vatican currently has diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Graham confirmed that Kim had entrusted him with a return message for the Pope, but he would not reveal the contents of the Vatican-North Korean dialogue. However, he later described Kim’s communique to the Vatican as “positive.” He also held private discussions with the minister of foreign affairs, Kim Yong Nam.

Church Crowds

Graham told reporters that he had traveled to North Korea not as a diplomat but as a “minister of the gospel.” He preached in the country’s only two official churches, Pyongyang’s Catholic Changchung Church and the Protestant Bongsu Church. Both buildings were filled to capacity while he spoke. He also met separately with pastors, seminarians, and other ...

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