It was a fitting scene for a prelate who meant so much to his flock.
Not Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s presence.
Not NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, or his predecessor, Ray Kelly.
Not even the current mayor, Bill de Blasio AND all three of his living predecessor --Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani, and David Dinkins -- sitting side-by-side.
No. What seemed most fitting, was the firefighter who flanked one side of Cardinal Edward Egan’s open casket at Tuesday’s funeral inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And the cop on the other.
Agree or disagree with the Catholic Church’s sometimes controversial dogma, and Egan’s fierce defense of it, there is no denying that in one of the city’s darkest moments, his strength and compassion sustained New Yorkers of all faiths.
Our Finest and Bravest in particular, who sacrificed so much when the terrorists tore a hole in our heart and knocked those two towers, such a proud symbol of a proud city, to the ground, were hit hard.
Egan was right there, at Ground Zero, anointing the dead civilians, from laborers and food workers to financial executives and computer programs, as they were pulled from the rubble of the Sept. 11, 2001 horror.
And he was there to support, counsel, and hug the first responders who ran into the towers as others ran out.
In all, 341 firefighters were killed; as were two paramedics, and 60 cops — 37 from the Port Authority and 23 from the NYPD.
They were among the 2,606 people who perished that day; 2977 victims nationwide when you count the attacks at the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania.
Egan attended many funerals. So many. Sometimes three a day.
He even buried a fellow priest, the beloved Fire Department chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, whose dust-covered, crumpled body being carried from the towers’ rubble became such an iconic photo from that miserable day and its aftermath.
More than 2,500 people from from all walks of life and all faiths crammed the pews inside the spectacularly grandiose St. Patrick’s Cathedral, across from Rockefeller Center.
Egan’s family was there, his nephews, nieces, and other relatives, said his successor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who presided over Mass before Egan’s white miter was removed from his head and placed beside him.
To his nephew, Bryan Hayes, Cardinal Egan was simply “Uncle Ed.”
“Uncle Ed was a steadfast bastion of all that is good. A man of integrity and a role model.”
Hayes told dignitaries and mourners, a gathering that included nearly than three dozen other bishops and half a dozen cardinals.
Dolan noted, with a touch of humor, and irony, that Egan was not one for eulogies.
He walked out before his own mother’s was delivered at her funeral, telling his niece, “Mom did not like eulogies. Neither does her son.”
And he’d not want personal praise either, Dolan said.
"Oh, a eulogy would be so easy and natural. . . but, he'd have none of it, and simply want us to confess our faith in God, rather than our gratitude to him, our departed Cardinal," he said.
Dolan has a magical way of helping people smile as they deal with grief.
And it was on display again Tuesday.
"Visiting the priests' lot at one of our cemeteries, he once pointed out to me the inscription on one tombstone: Dilexit ecclesiam," Dolan said.
"He liked it, not just because it was in Latin, but because of what it said: 'He loved the Church!'" 'What a tribute,' he commented to me. A tribute, my friends, Edward Egan also merits, because dilexit ecclesiam, he loved the Church."
Egan, who was archbishop of New York from 2000 to 2009. will be entombed in a crypt beneath the cathedral, alongside his predecessor, Cardinal John O’Connor.