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Despite rain, Kennedy mourners flock to church

People gather near the Basilica of Our Lady

People gather near the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to pay tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy during his funeral. (Aug. 29, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

BOSTON - BOSTON -- Hundreds of mourners lined the sidewalks near Boston’s Mission Church where a funeral Mass was held Saturday for Sen. Edward Kennedy, with some holding signs urging lawmakers to approve health care legislation in his honor, and other saying they just wanted to witness a moment in history.

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>> Read Newsday's complete coverage of the death of Ted Kennedy

Lillian Bennett, 59, of the city’s Dorchester neighborhood said she was a longtime Kennedy supporter and was determined to get as close as she could to the invitation-only funeral, despite the driving rain.

“I said to myself this morning, ’no matter what the weather, I’m going. I don’t care if I have to swim,” she said, calling Kennedy “irreplaceable.”

American flags, old campaign signs and photographs of Kennedy dotted the street and storefronts leading up to the church, formally named Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica. The church is located in one of Boston’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods, and serves a mix of lifelong residents, students from nearby colleges and the more than 20 medical facilities in the area. Kennedy often prayed at the church while his daughter, Kara, was being treated for cancer.

The public was not allowed close to the church, where Kennedy relatives and friends and dozens of former and current members of Congress gathered for a funeral Mass. Kennedy died late Tuesday night at age 77, after battling brain cancer for more than a year.

The invited included a broad mix, from foreign dignitaries to Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, singer Tony Bennett and actor Jack Nicholson. President Barack Obama and three of the four living presidents also attended — prompting what Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis described as the largest security event he’d ever seen in Boston.

“The closet thing we could compare this to is the Democratic National Convention ... but that was 18 months of planning,” he said.

Still, there were few problems, and even residents who were restricted from coming and going from their home were without complaint, Davis said. One protester was arrested during the three days of motorcades and memorials, said Davis, who did not have details.

After the Mass, Kennedy’s body was wisked away in another motorcade including family and friends traveling in charter buses, to nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, to be flown for burial in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. A line of cars stretched more than a mile along the highway, as motorists pulled over to watch the motorcade. Others huddled under umbrellas and tightened hoods around their faces as they held American flags and waves from overpasses and near the entrance to the base.

Karen Spence, 45, also of Dorchester, came dressed in a bedazzled T-shirt with American flags and red flip-flops, and called her opportunity to be near the church for his funeral “the chance of a lifetime.”

As Kennedy friends, family and dignitaries arrived, the crowds were respectful and largely silent, in contrast to the applause and cheers that greeted the sun-soaked motorcade Thursday, when the hearse carried Kennedy’s body from his home on Cape Cod and then through the streets of Boston past sites significant to Kennedy’s family and career.

On Saturday, police motorcycles led a solemn procession of the hearse and limousines carrying the immediate family from where the body had been lying in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library to the church. A handful of people outside the church cheered and yelled “God Bless” and “Thank you, Teddy!” as the hearse approached.

A far-off trumpet could be heard playing a mournful melody.

Cinde Warmington, of Gilford, N.H., cradled an umbrella in the nook of her shoulder as she wrote on a fluorescent green poster, using her 19-year-old son’s back as a table.

“Health care, do it for Ted,” she wrote. “Keep the dream alive. Health care 4 all,” the reverse side read.

“I always said I’d be there for him,” Warmington said. “He spent his whole life fighting for people.”

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