Graham Association Looks to a 'New New Orleans'

Tonight, evangelist Franklin Graham will be making waves at the Celebration of Hope with the gospel message for a "new New Orleans."

Bringing hope to a disaster-stricken Gulf Coast, Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will kick off the two-day festival tonight at the New Orleans Arena where pastors and congregants of 215 local churches and the Katrina affected population are expected to hear words from both Franklin Graham and – on the second day – his father, the Rev. Billy Graham.

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

The father-son team recently spoke at a New Orleans church to hundreds of pastors who have worked tirelessly to bring relief to the hurricane victims. Franklin reiterated the words of one of the local mayors who applauded faith-based groups for the recovering communities.

"I was talking to one of the mayors near New Orleans who told me, 'It's the churches that have saved our communities,'" said Franklin to the large group of pastors. "I thank God for you for the way you have stood and reached out to the community at this time of need."

Churches brought loads of relief aid to the affected people since Katrina's landfall, but pastors found the need for a hope in the city.

"If this city needs anything right now, it needs hope," said the Rev. Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, according to the Graham Association. "Things are bad, and they will be bad for a while, but this Crusade has brought much needed excitement and hope."

For years, local pastors have been praying for a revival in New Orleans and with the devastation of Katrina, the church heads have requested Franklin to bring his world-renowned festival to the devastated city during on of his numerous visits in heading Samaritan's Purse relief work.

"Out of the disaster is going to grow a new New Orleans," Billy Graham said Thursday from the same pulpit he used during his New Orleans Crusade more than 50 years ago. "You and people like you are the key to its progress because what is needed is a moral and spiritual renewal."

Despite the ravaged lands, churches have already felt the positive impact and changes that had sprung from the disaster.

"Katrina has forced pastors to bridge so many gaps that existed before the storm," said Bishop J. Douglas Wiley of New Life Cathedral in Algiers. "Barriers between races and denominations have been broken down, and there is a new unity and fellowship that didn't exist before."

The Grahams will dedicate a new playground with Mayor Gretna today and open the Celebration of Hope tonight with Point of Grace and George Huff.