PARIS: World leaders, past and present, stood in silence in Paris on Monday at a funeral service for Jacques Chirac, the French leader remembered at home for his folksy charisma and abroad for opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
France’s Emmanuel Macron, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and former US president Bill Clinton were among the mourners in the aisles of the Saint Sulpice church for the mass in memory of Chirac, who died last week aged 86.
Chirac’s coffin, draped in the French flag, rested at the front of the church after having been driven in a procession escorted by police motorcyclists along streets lined by thousands of Parisians.
Chirac, who served as president from 1995 to 2007, was feted by many French people for asserting their country’s role as a global player, a stance that put him at odds with Washington over the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Chirac was from his earliest years a member of the French establishment, but he also had a knack for connecting with ordinary people outside the urban elite. A court conviction after he left office for misusing public funds did little to tarnish his image.
“This former president ... had a true love for people, equally at home in the salons of the Elysee or the living room of a farmer,” Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit told the roughly 2,000 people gathered in the church.
He said Chirac embodied a love for his fellow man that is missing from today’s society. “Goodbye, and thank you Monsieur Chirac,” Aupetit added.
Chirac’s widow Bernadette was absent from the funeral mass because of frail health, the archbishop said. Earlier, 86-year-old Bernadette and other members of Chirac’s family attended a private service in the Hotel Des Invalides, the public building where Chirac’s body had lain in state over the weekend.
Other leaders at the Saint-Sulpice funeral included German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Al Hariri. Prince Edward, youngest son of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, also attended. European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker pulled out for health reasons, a spokeswoman said.
President Macron will host the visiting leaders at a lunch at the Elysee Palace, though Putin was expected to fly out before the lunch, the Elysee said.
Earlier on Monday, Chirac’s coffin was taken from the Hotel Des Invalides — originally a home for wounded servicemen — by a military honour guard.
A sombre-looking Macron bowed his head in front of Chirac’s casket before 10 members of the elite Republican guard lifted the coffin onto their shoulders and marched out of the building’s courtyard as a band played Chopin’s funeral march.
The last three French presidents to die, Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand, all had their funeral masses at Notre Dame cathedral.
The Saint-Sulpice church was chosen for Chirac’s service because Notre Dame was partially destroyed in a fire in April this year.
Chirac is to be buried later on Monday at the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, in a plot next to his daughter Laurence, who died in 2016.
Over the weekend, thousands of people queued outside the Hotel des Invalides to pay tribute to Chirac. His coffin was on display, draped in the French flag and in front of a large photograph of a smiling Chirac.
Chirac was “someone who had a different idea of his role, of France’s role in the international community, who showed it in difficult situations,” said Paris resident Remu Issons, who was among the crowd at the lying-in-state.
Crowds gathered too at Paris town hall, where Chirac served for 18 years as mayor. “My heart is heavy,” said Anne Firmin, who was looking at a display of photographs of Chirac at the height of his political power. “For me, it’s my whole youth.”