ROME – Italian-born politician David Sassoli, the late president of the European parliament, who was also a Catholic, has been remembered by a top Italian prelate as a man whose life and political career was spent in the pursuit of inclusive democracy and the common good.

Speaking during Sassoli’s funeral Mass Friday, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, said Sassoli, while being a political figure belonging to Italy’s Democratic party, was also “a man for everyone, because his party was that of the person.”

“For him, politics was, had to be, for the common good and a democracy that is always inclusive, humanitarian, and humanist,” he said. “This is why he wanted a united Europe with founding values.”

Sassoli was granted a state funeral in Italy, one of the highest honors the country can bestow, with Friday’s funeral celebrated in Rome. Zuppi, widely considered a leading candidate to be the next president of the Italian bishops’ conference, was chosen to preside because of his personal friendship with Sassoli.

Sassoli, Zuppi said, loved Europe and had a special desire to fight for these values because “he was the son of a generation that had seen war and the horrors of the genocide and Nazi and fascist pagan violence.”

“He was the son of resistance and its values, those on which our republic is founded, and which inspired the founding fathers of Europe. It was from that immense suffering that his commitment was born,” Zuppi said, insisting that Sassoli was a man of “not ideologies, but ideals; not calculations, but a vision so that even Europe does not live for itself, because Christianity is not just an idea, but a person, Jesus, who passes through people and into history.”

Sassoli, who had served as the president of EU parliament since July 2019, died Tuesday, Jan. 11, at a hospital in Italy after being admitted the day after Christmas following a “dysfunction of his immune system.” He was 65.

A former journalist with Rome’s Il Tempo newspaper, Sassoli had struggled with poor health since September, when he was hospitalized in Strasbourg due to a severe case of pneumonia caused by legionella.

One of his last political acts was to oppose the building of walls along the EU’s borders to ward off incoming asylum seekers, arguing that the increasingly thick concrete razor-wire fences around the EU were unbecoming of European values, and were a source of division within the bloc.

In his homily, Zuppi reflected on the Beatitudes outlined by Jesus in the Gospels, saying the spiritual happiness they represent, “is not a hard-fought ultimate reward for some sacrifice,” but is rather a freedom from the deceptive representation of “a beatitude of individual well-being at any price.”

“There is no joy alone! The joy of the Gospel unites, does not divide from others,” he said, and pointed to the outpouring of esteem for Sassoli expressed in recent days.

“I must say that seeing how much love has tightened around David and his family in recent days, I understand more clearly that joy comes from what one gives to others and that then, only after having given it, is it received,” Zuppi said.

Joy, he said, “is in being and not having, in thinking of oneself for and not in the search of one’s own interest or someone else’s.”

“Let us ask ourselves what we must give to others for them to be happy, because my happiness is theirs,” he said, insisting that “we must always see life through the eyes of others.”

“For this we thank the Lord for David,” he said, calling Sassoli “blessed in affliction,” having welcomed his illness “with dignity, without making it burdensome, spending himself to the end.”

Sassoli, he said, lived his life “with the strength of his ideals and the love that surrounded him so much and accompanied him.”

Zuppi closed his homily asking that Jesus would embrace him in mercy, and asking that rest in peace saying, “your smile will always remind us to seek happiness and to build hope, as brothers and sisters all.”

In a message of condolence issued shortly after Sassoli’s death, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Commission of European Union Bishops’ Conferences (COMECE), said he was saddened to hear of Sassoli’s passing.

Sassoli, he said, “was a man of values and dialogue, with a great sense of duty, who worked for the common good as a journalist and as an EU leader to improve the democratic institutions and bring them closer to the European citizens.”

Ever since his election as president of the European Parliament in 2019, Sassoli, he said, “has accompanied the work of the European institutions on crucial topics such as youth empowerment, the fight against poverty, the recovery from the pandemic” and initiatives such as the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Hollerich voiced confidence that Sassoli’s qualities as a public servant have not gone unnoticed by Europeans, especially the youth, “who will not only remember him but also continue his legacy in favor of democracy and solidarity.”

“On behalf of the Bishops of COMECE, I would like to offer my most sincere condolences to the family, friends, colleagues of President Sassoli,” he said, adding, “At this difficult moment, we mourn this remarkable Italian and proud European. May he rest in peace.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen