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Thousands in NYC mourn Kennedy in `people's Mass,' procession

By Fred Kaplan, Globe Staff, 07/23/99

NEW YORK - This city paid mournful tribute to John F. Kennedy Jr. last night as 1,000 people crowded into a memorial Mass at a downtown Manhattan church, while 3,000 more waited outside for the street procession that followed.

The Emerald Isle Immigration Center, one of the city's Irish-American groups, organized the service as a ''people's Mass'' for mourners who are not invited to this morning's family Mass.

But no one had any idea so many would turn out.

''We didn't realize the extent to which not just the Irish community but the New York community considered him family,'' the Rev. Colm Campbell, of the Irish Apostolate, said from the pulpit of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, a grand 200-year-old Gothic structure on the edge of SoHo and Little Italy.

''We're overwhelmed but also delighted that you're here,'' he continued.

A bagpipe band from Queens, the Pipes of County Tyrone, played as the mourners entered the church, and again an hour later as they marched out in single file, past apartments and cafes and along Mott, Prince, and Mulberry streets.

The crowds lining the sidewalks - five and 10 deep - stood solemnly behind police lines, some of them taking pictures or videos of the priests and people walking by, some crossing themselves, a few saluting.

During the Mass inside the cathedral, Irish tunes, including ''My Lagan Love,'' ''The Culain,'' and ''Danny Boy,'' alternated with church hymns.

Three candles burned on the altar, representing baptismal candles for Kennedy, his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, who all died in Friday night's plane crash.

Sargent Shriver, John Jr.'s uncle, sat quietly in a front pew, representing the family. The other thousand in attendance were, by and large, just ordinary New Yorkers who somehow felt they had known ''John-John,'' as a priest repeatedly called him in his eulogy, all their lives.

''I saw this kid grow up,'' said Lenore Smith, 49, a clerical worker for the city who, like many of those who made it inside the church, had stood in line for two hours before the service.

''He's a guy you didn't hear anything bad about - no scandals, nothing.''

''I met with John Kennedy,'' said Lesliann Scott, who came in from Brooklyn.

''I passed him once on the street and said `Hi.' He said `Hi' back to me, very nicely.''

Nancy Walsh, a court reporter who lives on Long Island, had met Kennedy when he was an assistant district attorney.

''I was at RFK's wake at St. Pat's. I can't believe I'm at this St. Pat's for John Jr.,'' she said. ''I had to be here, out of respect for what the family has done.''

Those who eulogized him from the pulpit evoked grand, even romantic imagery.

''If the Kennedy family is America's royalty, then John Jr. was the people's prince,'' said Carolyn Ryan, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center.

''He never asked what we could do for him,'' she went on, paraphrasing the famous phrase from President Kennedy's inaugural address, ''but what he could do for us, for he was one of us.''

Rodney Cook, an Atlanta architect who said he was a close friend of Kennedy's, called him ''our generation's most shining light'' who ''would want to compel each of you to be the hope of your generation, in whatever way for you is best.''

The Rev. Keith Fennessy, pastor of the cathedral, paraphrased Daniel Patrick Moynihan's line after President Kennedy was killed: ''Part of being Irish is knowing that someday the world will break your heart.''

He added, ''We all feel very Irish tonight.''

This story ran on page A8 of the Boston Globe on 07/23/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


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