The Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) - Leaders and other luminaries paid final tribute Saturday to Edward M. Kennedy, mourning the loss of a senator who made an indelible impact on U.S. life over 47 years in Congress and the man who held up America's most famous family during tragedy and triumph.
President Barack Obama was delivering the eulogy at a two-hour Roman Catholic funeral Mass for Kennedy. The service drew to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica three of the four living former presidents, dozens of Kennedy relatives, pews full of current and former members of Congress and hundreds of others affected by the senator in ways large and small. Kennedy died Tuesday night at 77, after battling brain cancer for more than a year.
No fewer than seven priests, 11 pallbearers and 29 honorary pallbearers took part. Tenor Placido Domingo was to sing, accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Kennedy's flag-draped casket - carried by eight servicemen - was wrapped tightly in plastic to guard against a steady rain as it was removed from his brother's presidential library and put into a hearse for the drive to the church. The senator's widow, Victoria, closed her eyes slowly and appeared to choke back tears as she watched undercover of an umbrella. The family had held a brief and private prayer service at the library in the morning.
The route to the church was lined with people, some holding "Kennedy-Thanks" signs and one person waving a lone red heart.
"We welcome the body of our friend," said a priest as the casket entered the church.
Under the soaring ceilings of the basilica, a church Kennedy had frequented almost daily while his daughter, Kara, battled cancer at a nearby hospital, over a dozen Kennedy family members accompanied the casket down the church aisle, each straining to touch a piece of the cloth covering it.
Kara Kennedy was the first family member to speak at the service, reading Psalm 72.
The unseasonable cold outdoors, the result of Tropical Storm Danny's path up the Eastern seaboard, was not felt inside the church, which grew warm from the packed crowd. The church's stained-glass windows were opened and fans turned on to quell the heat.
The cross-section of at the invitation-only service included Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, actor Jack Nicholson and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, once an aide to Kennedy.
Obama was expected to focus on Kennedy's impact on the nation since first being elected in 1962. Obama met with Mrs. Kennedy privately for about 10 minutes early in the morning, at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, a hotel frequented by the Kennedys for generations.
Kennedy's career spanned the assassinations of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. 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.
The emotional funeral concluded four days of public and private mourning.
Kennedy's family has marked his passing at an elaborately organized series of services and events: a Mass at Kennedy's beloved home on Cape Cod on Thursday, a somber motorcade carrying his body from the compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., past sites in Boston sentimental to the Kennedy family, and to his brother's presidential library. There, he lay in repose for two days as thousands of people streamed by.
A rotation of friends, former staffers and others Kennedy touched took turns for a 24-hour vigil by his casket, including the parents of a murdered lifeguard, the family of an Iraq war soldier and the widow of a Sept. 11 terror victim.
Friday night, 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," said Schlossberg, "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."
Saturday's ceremony evoked the funerals of Kennedy's slain brothers. It was at RFK's rites in 1968 that Edward Kennedy famously memorialized Robert.
"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."
After the Boston funeral, Kennedy's body was being flown to Andrews Air Force Base, which also received JFK's body after his 1963 assassination. There was to be a prayer service at the base, and another at the U.S. Capitol for Senate staffers. The entourage then was to proceed along the National Mall and into Arlington National Cemetery.
As evening was falling, Kennedy was to be buried there on a hillside near his brothers.
AP writer Karen Testacontributed to this report.