Obama to honor Sen. Kennedy at funeral Mass


Edward M. Kennedy is getting a final tribute befitting his huge profile on the American political scene, his life celebrated at a funeral Mass by President Barack Obama, three former presidents and dozens of current and former congressmen.

No fewer than seven priests, 11 pallbearers and 29 honorary pallbearers were presiding over the Roman Catholic Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica on a rainy, unseasonably cold day.

Family and friends were joined by political figures in gathering around the 77-year-old senator's flag-draped casket at the Kennedy presidential library for a brief prayer service before his body was to be brought in a motorcade to the church. The prayer is part of the ritual of a Roman Catholic burial and typically happens at a funeral home before the body is brought to a church for the funeral Mass.

At the Mass, tenor Placido Domingo was to sing, accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Joining Obama and nearly 1,500 other invitees were former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, as well as 58 current members of the U.S. Senate, 21 former members and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, once an aide to Kennedy. The cross-section of those invited included Boston Celtics great Bill Russell and actor Jack Nicholson.

White House aides were mum about the eulogy the president would offer, but Obama was expected to focus on the impact Kennedy had on American life since first being elected in 1962.

His 47-year career spanned the assassinations of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy; the civil rights era and Apollo moon landings; and battles over health, education and immigration; as well as the country's election of Obama, its first black president, who was born roughly 18 months before Kennedy took office.

Obama, dressed in a dark suit and overcoat, left his hotel early Saturday to walk in a drizzling rain across the street to the Fairmont Copley Plaza for a 10-minute private visit with Kennedy's widow, Vicki.

The hotel has been frequented by the Kennedys for generations, and the halls on one floor are lined with family pictures.

After the meeting, Obama, hands in pockets, ignored a shouted question about the contents of his eulogy.

A military honor guard has stood by Kennedy's casket since it arrived at his brother's presidential library Thursday. A rotation of friends, former staffers and others Kennedy touched -- including the parents of a murdered lifeguard, the family of an Iraq war soldier and the widow of a Sept. 11 terror victim -- has maintained a 24-hour vigil.

On Friday, Kennedy was remembered at a bipartisan memorial service whose speakers included Sens. John McCain and John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, JFK's daughter.

"Now Teddy has become a part of history," Schlossberg said, "and we are the ones who will have to do all the things he would have done, for us, for each other and for our country."

The invitation-only funeral audience of world leaders and commoners alike evoked the funerals for Kennedy's brothers. It was at RFK's rites in 1968 that the senator not only emerged as family patriarch, but also the person to deliver the final word on lives cut short.

He memorialized Robert Kennedy by saying, "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

Following the service, Kennedy's body was being flown to Andrews Air Force Base, which also received JFK's body after his 1963 assassination, before being driven to the U.S. Capitol then along the National Mall and into Arlington Cemetery.

There, as evening falls, he was to be buried on a hillside grave site near his two slain brothers.

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