ASHEVILLE, North Carolina - President Barack Obama drove up a mountaintop Sunday to pray with Billy Graham, the American preacher who harnessed the media and made Christian evangelism a global phenomenon.
Obama rode in his motorcade to Graham's mountainside log cabin in Montreat from Asheville, North Carolina, where he spent a weekend vacation with his wife Michelle and close friends.
"Reverend Graham has obviously been an important spiritual leader for past presidents and for the American people for decades," said Bill Burton, a White House spokesman. "He's a real treasure for our country. The president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home."
During the visit, Obama and the ailing Graham, 91, shared a private prayer and a conversation.
"I am pleased to have had President Obama in my home this afternoon," Graham said in a statement.
"I want to encourage Christians everywhere to pray for our President, and for all those in positions of authority, and especially for the men and women serving in our military."
The president "is extraordinarily gratified that he took the time to meet with him," Burton said.
Following their meeting, Obama headed to West Virginia to deliver a eulogy during a memorial service for 29 workers killed this month in the worst US mining disaster in decades.
White House spiritual adviser Joshua DuBois attended the session along with Graham's son Franklin, who has come under fire in recent weeks for calling Islam evil and offensive.
The visit's timing was awkward, coming just days after the Pentagon rescinded an invitation to the younger Graham, also a spiritual leader, to lead a prayer service at the Pentagon next month after Muslim groups objected to his participation and the US Army determined his comments were inappropriate.
Obama and the elder Graham had never met in person before, and the president became the 12th White House occupant to do so. As a presidential candidate, Obama had tried to meet Graham during a visit to North Carolina in 2008 but the reverend was unable to receive him at that time.
Graham has met or ministered to every president since Harry Truman in 1950 and Obama was the first US president to visit the evangelist at his home.
He founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in 1950 and has since harnessed the media to spread his message of evangelism around the world.
BGEA also spreads its Christian message online, and in 2006, nearly 7,000 people around the world found Jesus Christ on the Internet, the association says on its website.
The evangelical dynasty begun by Graham and carried on by his son Franklin and grandson Will, takes its message of Christianity through its website, films, television specials, a magazine and an internationally syndicated newspaper column.