Image: Christopher Nzewwa, a native of Nigeria and longtime Boston resident, holds a sign thanking Senator Edward Kennedy
Jodi Hilton  /  Getty Images
Christopher Nzewwa, a native of Nigeria and longtime Boston resident, holds a sign thanking Senator Edward Kennedy close to the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help where his funeral was taking place Aug. 29 in Boston.
updated 8/29/2009 2:27:03 PM ET 2009-08-29T18:27:03

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 U.S. history.

Lillian Bennett, 59, 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.

Largest security event in Boston
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 basketball 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.

Karen Spence, 45, came dressed in a T-shirt with American flags, and called her opportunity to even be outside "the chance of a lifetime."

Slideshow: A Democratic icon 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.

‘Thank you, Teddy’
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.

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

Cinde Warmington, of Gilford, New Hampshire, 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."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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