Ted Kennedy's letter to Pope Benedict, sent through President Barack Obama during the US leader's Vatican visit this year, was read out at the interment service in Arlington on Saturday.
"Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am deeply grateful to him," Kennedy wrote, quoted by various news reports.
"I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and, 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.
"I have been blessed to be a part of a wonderful family, and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path."
Politics Daily quotes Kennedy defending his public record: "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 also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.
"I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me."
The Vatican responded to the letter about two weeks later, conveying the Pope's prayers for Kennedy.
"The Holy Father ... was saddened to know of your illness, and has asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness.
"His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God our merciful Father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the Risen Savior to all who share in His sufferings and trust in His promise of eternal life.
"Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord."
In remarks prepared for the interment service, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick offered condolences to Kennedy's widow, Vicki, and the family then added a story of his own that seemed to put in perspective the entire saga of Kennedy's often tricky relationship to the church:
"They called him the Lion of the Senate and indeed that is what he was," Politics Daily quoted Cardinal McCarrick saying. "His roar and his zeal for what he believed made a difference in our nation's life."
"Sometimes, we who were his friends and had affection for him would get mad at him when he roared at what we believed was the wrong side of an issue which was important to us, but we always were touched by his passion for the underdog, for the rights of working people, for better education and for adequate health care for every American," the cardinal added.
Ted Kennedy to Pope Benedict: 'I am writing with deep humility...' (Politics Daily)
Excerpts of Kennedy letter to pope and response (Google News/AP)