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 carabinieri carrying swords and wearing capes, Sassoli’s pallbearers carried a coffin draped in an EU flag into the Michelangelo-designed Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs.
Mourners, socially distant and wearing masks, filled the church, nestled in the ancient ruins of the Baths of Diocletian – a place traditionally used for state and military funerals.
During the proceedings, friends, family and colleagues paid tribute to the journalist-turned-politician, who unexpectedly became the head of the European Parliament in 2019 after 10 years as an EU 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, distributing food to the homeless and providing space for women in difficult circumstances.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, a school friend who also led the service, said that for Sassoli politics “was and should be for the common good.” Sassoli, he said, wanted “a Europe united and based on its founding values”.
In Italy, Sassoli is fondly remembered as a longtime news presenter on the public television channel TG1. Zuppi described him as “a quality journalist, that serene face that accompanied so many newscasts that projected respect and credibility”.
In addition to ministers and party leaders, attendees included Sassoli’s other EU presidents, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez were also present, as well as figures from the Italian Democratic Party, which Sassoli represented in the European Parliament.
News presenter Elisa Anzaldo said the nightly greetings from Sassoli, “Good evening” (good evening), teleported to living rooms across Italy “as if he didn’t want to disturb people while they dined.”
Sassoli’s subsequent success in Brussels surprised his 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.
Despite being a famous face in Italy, Sassoli “blushed at the compliments”, his son Giulio recalled.
“You taught us that fame and popularity only have meaning if you do good things with it,” he said.
Sassoli’s wife Alessandra Vittorini, who met her future husband as they went to school together, reflected on the extraordinary outpouring of grief seen by the 4,000 people who paid tribute to the late European leader Thursday at the Rome City Hall.
Vittorini said his family always shared Sassoli with their work. But the fact that they shared it “has 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 that he had had a good, “albeit sometimes complicated” life.
But, she recalled, adding: “Leaving at 65 was too soon.”
“It was really too soon,” she said. “We still have so many things to tell you, projects to design and future to imagine together.”
Vittorini said she knows that transforming “the emptiness of loss into passion, values and love will be very difficult, but you taught me that nothing is impossible”.