As the sun set over Arlington Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, Senator Edward M. Kennedy was laid to rest just steps from the graves of his brothers John and Robert as 200 family members, friends, and Senate staffers looked on.
The graveside services began at 7:54 p.m. and much of the ceremony took place in near total darkness.
“It is certainly fitting to have a burial at the dying of the day since we know the sun will come back tomorrow,” said Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington and a personal friend of Senator Kennedy’s, who conducted the burial service.
After Kennedy’s daughter, Kara, read a letter from Paul to the Philippians, Cardinal McCarrick read extracts from a letter Senator Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI and had President Obama deliver on a recent trip to the Vatican. He also read a response from the Pope to Kennedy.
"I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines," Kennedy wrote. "I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path." After listing the legislative causes he had championed, including caring for the poor and trying to end war, Kennedy concluded, “I would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”
Cardinal McCarrick said that two weeks later Kennedy received a letter from the Vatican saying the Pope had asked the writer to “assure you of his concern and spiritual closeness.” The letter continued that the Pope “cordially imparts his apostolic blessing.”
As darkness fell over Arlington, the resting place of 260,000 members of the US military, the most visible object at the Kennedy gravesite was the US flag an honor guard held over the casket. After the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, a rifle salute, and the playing of taps, the voices of Kennedy’s four grandchildren could be heard talking about how much they loved him.
Granddaughter Grace Allen said, “Our favorite time of the year was Thanksgiving because we were all together.”
Roughly half an hour after it began, the service ended as limousine lights came on and family members prepared to leave a gravesite which will be marked with a white oak cross that matches the one on Robert Kennedy’s grave. There will also be a marble footmarker at the site with Senator Kennedy’s name and dates.
On the way to Arlington, the hearse carrying Senator Kennedy and the dozen limousines carrying family members stopped at the Capitol, pulling off Independence Avenue and onto the East Front Plaza at 6:22 p.m. to sustained applause.
A crowd of 1,000 staffers -- some from Senator Kennedy’s office and some from other congressional offices -- had gathered on the Senate steps. Across the plaza, several thousand members of the public had gathered on the lawn in front of the Capital.
Mrs. Kennedy stepped from her limousine and began moving along the Capitol steps, hugging staff members. Several members of Congress greeted her warmly including Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the longest serving member of the Senate who had worked with Senator Kennedy during his entire time in office. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, was also on hand.
House Chaplain Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin spoke, telling Mrs. Kennedy “we are here to briefly pray with you, offer our sympathy, and thank you.” Then members of a Washington D.C. school chorus sang America the Beautiful.
After the chorus sang, Rev Coughlin thanked the crowd for attending, and to applause Mrs. Kennedy blew kisses to the crowd as she got back in her limousine. Then Senator Kennedy’s son Patrick spoke to his father’s staffers thanking them for turning out to honor him. He “knew he was only great because he had great people supporting him,” Patrick said.
After a 22 minute stay, the family drove off the Capitol plaza heading to Arlington Cemetery.
Follow us on Twitter.