WASHINGTON -- Three New England senators will join a congressional delegation traveling to the Vatican for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
Massachusetts Democrats Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry and Connecticut Democrat Christopher J. Dodd plan to leave for Rome late today. The funeral is scheduled for Friday morning.
All three saw the pope celebrate Mass on Boston Common during his first papal visit to the United States in October 1979.
Kennedy recalled presenting the pope with a bust of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, during a visit to the Vatican with his sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, to honor her work with disabled children.
''He told us that in God's eyes, we were all created equally, we all had creative gifts, and all of our talents were enlightened by God," Kennedy said.
Dodd's first meeting with the pope came in St. Peter's Square in 1983, when he delivered a message to the pontiff from Polish solidarity leader Lech Walesa.
''Lech Walesa wanted to know if his Solidarity movement was overusing the church," said Dodd. He said the pope's answer was no.
''He was already sowing the seeds for the critical role he played in that," recalled Dodd, who still carries rosary beads the pontiff gave him. ''No one deserves more credit than the pope for bringing to an end the Cold War."
In a statement yesterday, Kerry stressed that the pontiff left a lasting imprint on his family as well as the world.
''My daughters still remember standing out in the rain to see him when he visited Boston in 1979," Kerry said. ''We'll never forget the example he set by forgiving the man who tried to take his life, and by praying at the Western Wall to ask Jews for their forgiveness."
Megan Tench of the Globe staff contributed to this report.