Somber pageantry and touches of endearing humor marked the elaborate funeral today of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, eulogized by President Obama as "a champion for those who had none."
The two-hour Mass, steeped in Catholic tradition and Kennedy lore, recalled a tender family patriarch, a spirited fighter, and an unrivaled statesman.
"We can still hear his voice bellowing through the Senate chamber, face reddened, fist pounding the podium, a veritable force of nature, in support of health care or workers’ rights or civil rights," President Obama said in his eulogy before 1,500 people at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mission Hill. "And yet, while his causes became deeply personal, his disagreements never did."
The spectacle followed the funeral procession after the Mass, with hundreds of people standing in the driving rain along the 25-mile route to Hanscom Air Force Base in the northwest suburbs. Wearing raincoats and clutching wide umbrellas, they stood on overpasses across the Massachusetts Turnpike and stopped their cars on Route 128, standing in the roadway. The plane taking the senator's body to Washington, D.C. took off at 3:27 p.m. The senator will be buried later today next to his slain brothers at Arlington National Cemetery.
At the Mass, the soft, rich smell of incense filled the sanctuary packed with cabinet secretaries and senators, foreign dignitaries and actors, and scholars and renowned athletes. President Obama and his wife, Michelle, sat in the first row next to Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill. In the next pew, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat beside former president George W. Bush. Clinton was joined by her husband, the former president. Nearby sat another former president, Jimmy Carter.
As a military honor guard carried the casket down the center aisle, the only sound came from one officer, saying in muted tones, "Hup. Hup. Hup. Hup" to keep pace.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played a mournful sarabande from Bach. The soaring, melancholy voice of the great tenor Placido Domingo filled the sanctuary as he sang "Panis Angelicus." And the mezzo-soprano Susan Graham held the congregation entranced with Shubert's "Ave Maria."
"He was not perfect, far from it," said Ted Kennedy Jr. in a tribute laced with humor and poignant, private memories. "But my father believed in redemption and he never surrendered. Never stopped trying to right wrongs, be they the results of his own failings or of ours."
Ted Kennedy Jr. recalled how his father loved "everything French -- cheese, wine, and women," and when the laughter quieted he told a story that made eyes fill with tears. As a 12-year-old, Ted Kennedy Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer and that winter his father took him sledding after a snowstorm. Ted Kennedy Jr. slipped and fell on the ice and told his father he would never be able to climb up the hill outside their home in Washington, D.C.
"He lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget," Ted Kennedy Jr. said. "I know you can do it. There is nothing you can't do. We are going to climb that hill together even if it takes us all day."
The service began with a greeting from the Rev. J. Donald Monan, former president of Boston College and a Kennedy family friend.
"A few scant miles from here, the city on the hill stands less tall against the morning sky," Monan said. "And the sea out toward near Nantucket is a bit more forlorn at the loss of one of its most ardent lovers."
Kennedy's grandchildren, nieces and nephews offered intercessions. One said, "For my uncle's stand against violence, hate, and war…" The congregation responded, "We pray to the Lord."
The senator's stepson, Curran Raclin, gave the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. "The souls of the just are in the hand of God," Raclin read, "and no torment shall touch them."
In the homily, the Rev. Mark R. Hession recalled the significance of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help held for the senator.
"When critical illness threatened his own daughter, he came to this place daily to pray. He came here, like generations before him, seeking the healing hand of God," Hession said. "We're reminded that the most public personalities also live a very personal existence. This church was the place of private prayer for a public man."
In his eulogy, Obama concluded with a final, stirring picture of Kennedy.
"The image of a man on a boat," Obama said, "white mane tousled, smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for what storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon.
"May God Bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace."
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