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Obama pays tribute to Kennedy at funeral mass

30 August 2009 at 01:09 | 598 views

U.S. President Barack Obama listed the triumphs and tragedies in the life of Senator Edward Kennedy and praised his "spirit of resilience and good humour" during a eulogy that capped a two-hour funeral service in Boston on Saturday.

Obama called Kennedy the "greatest legislator of our time" for trying to find common ground and compromise during his political life and said he experienced hardships that "would have broken a lesser man."

"He lost two siblings by the age of 16. He saw two more taken violently from a country that loved them. He said goodbye to his beloved sister Eunice in the final days of his life. He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible," the president told mourners.

Obama addressed nearly 1,500 people who had gathered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston. Among the invited guests were former U.S. presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Peter Kent, the minister of state for foreign affairs, attended as Canada’s official representative.

"There was really a feeling of a life well lived, [remembering] a man born into privilege who lived through numerous family tragedies, his own tragic misadventures and moments of personal crisis but who built a larger and more complete life in service," said Kent, who at the service was sitting between civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and Harvard University president Drew Faust.

The late senator Edward Kennedy

No fewer than seven priests, 11 pallbearers and 29 honorary pallbearers took part in the Roman Catholic service for the Massachusetts Democrat, who died Tuesday night at age 77 after a 14-month battle with brain cancer.

After several of Kennedy’s nieces, nephews and grandchildren said a series of short prayers that made reference to some of the causes Kennedy championed throughout his life, including social justice and universal health care, cellist Yo-Yo Ma began to play. He later accompanied tenor Placido Domingo.

American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham was also part of the musical program, singing a rendition of Ave Maria.

’Nothing is impossible’ was father’s lesson, Edward Jr. says
In his homily, Rev. Mark Hession said Kennedy drew strength from his family and worked to help other American families.

"It is not too much to say that his abiding political and legislative concern for the welfare of families, especially those at the socio-economic edge of American life, was rooted in his own experience of a vibrant and caring family life," he said.

Edward Kennedy Jr. wipes a tear away as he talks about his father at Saturday’s funeral service. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
Kennedy’s son Edward Jr., who lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12, also paid tribute, saying his father taught him how to overcome hardship.

He remembered how his father helped him go sledding soon after he had been fitted with an artificial leg, encouraging him by saying they would "climb that hill together even if it takes us all day."

"My father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons. He taught me that nothing is impossible."

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, Victoria.

Kennedy’s 47-year career since he was first elected in 1962 spanned the assassinations of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy; the civil rights era and Apollo moon landings; and legislative battles over health, education and immigration; as well as the country’s election of Obama, its first black president, who was only 18 months old when Kennedy took office.

Kennedy will be buried Saturday evening near his brothers John and Robert at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

For more than three hours on Friday night, friends and political colleagues of all stripes remembered the youngest Kennedy brother during a "celebration of life" memorial at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

His family said 50,000 people filed past the flag-draped casket of Kennedy lying in repose at the Library.

Top photo: From left to right, former president Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former president George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former president Jimmy Carter wait for the mass to begin at the funeral service of Senator Edward Kennedy Saturday.