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Festival of Hope attendees enjoy final day of worship, music, Graham

Matthew Santoni
| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 10:20 p.m.
J.C. Leasure, 19, of Washington, Pa., center, attends the Three Rivers Festival of Hope featuring Franklin Graham, with his siblings Daniel Leasure, 14, left, and Mary Leasure, 16, right, at Consol Energy Center Sun., Aug. 17, 2014.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
J.C. Leasure, 19, of Washington, Pa., center, attends the Three Rivers Festival of Hope featuring Franklin Graham, with his siblings Daniel Leasure, 14, left, and Mary Leasure, 16, right, at Consol Energy Center Sun., Aug. 17, 2014.

The music drew some to Consol Energy Center on Sunday. For others, it was the chance to hear the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, preach about sin and forgiveness.

Faith was the common thread for the 10,100 who attended the last day of the three-day Festival of Hope, no matter their background or denomination, with many attendees hoping to leave energized and eager to share that energy with others.

“This has been a great opportunity for the region to hear some good music, of many different qualities and genres ... to worship God and hear the good news,” said Zach Carroll, 27, of Zelienople, one of a few to attend all three days of the festival. “I want to feel encouraged to talk to my friends and neighbors and coworkers about what I've experienced here.”

Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop David Zubik gave an opening prayer, noting the variety of Christian denominations that helped organize the event.

The musical draws included The Charlie Daniels Band, local musician Aaron Shust and closer Michael W. Smith.

“I go to church every week, and I love this type of music, but we can't have it every Sunday,” said Jan Matthews, 73, of New Kensington.

Graham preached for about 45 minutes, focusing on the chapter in the Gospel of Matthew in which a leper approaches Jesus and is healed. Like leprosy, sin starts small and ends up poisoning the entire body, but sin can be cured by giving oneself to Jesus and asking forgiveness, Graham said.

“There's no hope for you, for your sins, outside of Jesus Christ,” he said. “There's none of us here in this room who can say we've kept all of God's laws.”

Three-fourths of Consol Energy Center's lower bowl and one end of the upper bowl were filled with worshippers seeking to share the music and message of faith. Event spokesman Jeremy Blume said Saturday's attendance was 8,253 and Friday drew 7,412 people. The floor filled when Graham asked people to come down, stand up and ask forgiveness.

“My husband was always tuning in to watch Billy Graham, and when he heard about (the Festival of Hope) happening in our hometown of El Paso, he was so upset we couldn't make it,” said Ana Castillo, 35, whose husband was stationed with the Army Reserve 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Coraopolis. “When he heard about Franklin Graham coming here, we had to go. It's a reminder of what God's done for us.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

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