Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kennedy funeral begins with solemnity and quiet pageantry


By Matt Viser, Martin Finucane, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

With solemnity and quiet pageantry, the funeral Mass of Senator Edward M. Kennedy began at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mission Hill, steeped in Catholic ritual

The soft, rich smell of incense filled the sanctuary as a military honor guard carried the casket down the center aisle. The only muted sound came from one officer, saying "Hup. Hup. Hup. Hup" to keep pace. Moving toward the altar, the casket passed 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.

"We welcome the body of our friend and brother, Senator Ted Kennedy," said Rev. 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. And the sea out toward near Nantucket is a bit more forlorn at the loss of one of its most ardent lovers."

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."

Kennedy's grandchildren, nieces and nephews offered intercessions. One said, "For my uncle's stand against violence, hate, ainst 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."

"He was not perfect. Far from it," Ted Kennedy Jr. said in a tribute laced with humor and poignant, private memories. "But my father believed in redemption."

Ted Kennedy Jr. recalled how the senator loved "everything French -- cheese wine, and women," and when the laugher 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 dad 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."


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