ROME — Politicians, heads of state and European leaders gathered in Rome on Friday for the funeral of European Parliament President David Sassoli, who died on Tuesday.

Flanked by sword-bearing, caped Carabinieri, Sassoli’s pallbearers carried a coffin draped in an EU flag into the Michelangelo-designed Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and of the Martyrs.

Mourners, socially distanced and wearing masks, filled the church, nestled inside the ancient ruins of the Diocletian Baths — a location traditionally used for state and military funerals.

During the proceedings, friends, family and colleagues paid tribute to the journalist-turned-politician, who unexpectedly rose to become head of the European Parliament in 2019 after 10 years as a European lawmaker. They shared memories and praised Sassoli for his courage, recalling how he tried to make the European Parliament a place for those in need, handing out food to the homeless and providing a space for women in difficult situations.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, a school friend who also led the service, said that for Sassoli, politics “was, and had to be, for the common good.” Sassoli, he said, wanted “a Europe that was united and based on its founding values.”

In Italy, Sassoli is remembered fondly as a long-time news anchor on state television’s TG1 channel. Zuppi described him as “a journalist of quality, that serene face that accompanied so many TV news broadcasts projecting respect and credibility.”

In addition to ministers and party leaders, those attending included Sassoli’s fellow EU presidents, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez were also there, as were senior figures from Italy’s Democratic Party, which Sassoli represented in the European Parliament.

Fellow news anchor Elisa Anzaldo said Sassoli’s nightly greeting, “buona sera” (good evening), beamed into living rooms across Italy “as if he didn’t want to disturb people while they were having dinner.”

Sassoli’s later success in Brussels surprised colleagues, who thought he was too nice for the cynical world of politics.

“The dictionary of virtues, you had them all,” Anzaldo said. “We thought you wouldn’t go far in politics. What a joke you played on us.” 

Although a famous face in Italy, Sassoli “blushed at compliments,” his son Giulio recalled.

“You taught us that fame and popularity only have meaning if you do good things with them,” he said.

Sassoli’s wife, Alessandra Vittorini, who met her future husband when they attended school together, reflected on the extraordinary outpouring of sorrow, seen in the 4,000 people who paid homage to the deceased European leader on Thursday at Rome’s City Hall.

Vittorini said her family had always shared Sassoli with his work. But the fact that they had shared him “had produced the extraordinary recognition of the past few days, with lines of people, flowers, cards.”

Vittorini recounted that in his final weeks, Sassoli told his wife he had had a great life, “if sometimes complicated.”

But, she recalled him adding: “To go at 65 was too early.”

“It was truly too early,” she said. “There are so many things we still have to tell you, projects to design and a future to imagine together.”

Vittorini said she knows transforming “the emptiness of loss into passion, values and love will be very hard, but you taught me that nothing is impossible.”

Hannah Roberts

www.politico.eu

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