Sen. Edward Kennedy was laid to rest Saturday night alongside his slain brothers at Arlington National Cemetery, as Cardinal Theodore McCarrick read words Kennedy had penned to Pope Benedict XVI.
Kennedy wrote in the letter, "I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I've worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator."
"I know that I have been an imperfect human being but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path," the dying senator wrote, adding that his Roman Catholic faith "has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours." He contacted the spiritual leader "with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. Although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life."
The archbishop emeritus of Washington also read the Vatican's response, silencing reports that Kennedy's letter was unanswered. In the reply, "his Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope."
Kennedy's freshly excavated grave site lies 100 feet from his brother Robert, killed in 1968 while running for president, and is another 100 feet to the eternal flame that has burned since his brother John's assassination in 1963.
As darkness settled over the final resting place of America's fallen troops, a squad of seven riflemen fired three volleys in a traditional military funeral ritual, and a bugler sounded taps. Lightning flickered across the sky.
At a packed funeral Mass earlier Saturday in his hometown, Edward Kennedy was remembered as a fierce competitor, a tender-hearted father, and, in the words of President Obama, "the greatest legislator of all time."
As the strains of America the Beautiful, sung by more than 1,400 voices, rose to the vaulted rafters of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, members of his storied family bore the veteran Massachusetts lawmaker's remains out of the church and into a steady rain.
"My father taught me even the most profound losses are survivable," the senator's eldest son, Teddy Kennedy Jr., told the mourners as he described how the two of them worked to climb an icy hill together after the younger Kennedy lost a leg to cancer.
But the stricken faces in the crowd belied his brave words.
"The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy's shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became," President Obama said in a eulogy that culminated the 2½-hour service.
Following the funeral, Kennedy's body was flown to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. One last stately, sentimental procession snaked through D.C.'s streets to the U.S. Capitol, where members of the public had been invited to watch the cortege. Past and present members of Kennedy's staff began lining the marble steps leading up to the doors of the Senate chamber, where Kennedy served for nearly a half-century, to bid him farewell. Ailing Sen Robert ByrdD- W.Va., held an American flag and joined staffers on the steps in the intense summer heat.