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Graham Packs Rose Bowl

More than 80,000 people gathered in the Rose Bowl to hear the Rev. Billy Graham preach on the last day of what probably was one of the prominent American evangelist's final crusades.

About 312,500 of the faithful, the curious and the nostalgic attended over the course of the four-day crusade, which marks the 55th anniversary of the Los Angeles revival that propelled Graham to national fame in 1949.

Sunday's crowd nearly filled the 92,000-seat stadium, which was the largest U.S. venue ever booked for a Graham crusade.

Graham, 86, spoke for about 45 minutes Sunday, pausing only to sit down about halfway through his sermon. "Now I can preach another hour," he joked as he sat.

"Many of you have a Christian heritage, grew up in a Christian home, but you have this other pull of the sins of the world. Are you really happy?" Graham asked, as people in the crowd cheered and waved their hands. "God is offering to you and to me a pardon for our sins. God says, 'I love you, I'll forgive you, and I'll have mercy on you."'

This mission will be the preacher's last in California, and likely his second-to-last ever, his advisers said. Graham is expected to appear at a revival in New York's Madison Square Garden in June.

Organizers had worried that Los Angeles' size and linguistic diversity would make it difficult to mobilize worshippers, but said they were pleased with the turnout.

"What makes a crusade happen is when people in the local churches bring friends and family, and obviously that happened in a big way here in Los Angeles," crusade spokesman Larry Ross said.

After Graham finished his sermon, hundreds of people came down from the stands to make a commitment to God, filling the football field as non-English speakers gathered under dozens of signs in different languages. Faith counselors circulated to help people fill out cards to be distributed to local churches.

Sunday's program began with a performance by the Christian rock group Jars of Clay and a prayer from Willie Jordan, 71, who attended every night of Graham's 1949 Los Angeles revival. Michael Reagan, eldest son of the late president, introduced Graham with his own testimony about becoming a born-again Christian in 1985.

More than 20,000 volunteers and pastors from about 1,200 local churches worked for months to plan the crusade, which was delayed several months when Graham broke his pelvis.

Graham's first Los Angeles revival addressed a much different city. The five-county area covered by the crusade had a population of just under 5 million in 1949; now 16 million live in the concrete grid of freeways.

Graham planned to speak for three weeks in 1949 under a tent pitched in downtown Los Angeles.

But when famous personalities such as 1936 Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini and mobster Mickey Cohen showed up, the event caught the nation's eye and Graham kept going for eight weeks. Up to 6,000 people showed up each evening - and an estimated 350,000 overall.

By Gillian Flaccus