By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 10:17 PM
TUCSON - She became a national symbol of a longing for civility - a young girl full of innocent magic, curious about the world around her, brimming with excitement over her recent election to her student council.
Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green's coffin was wheeled out of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church here Thursday afternoon behind a bagpiper and Catholic clergymen. Her mourning parents accompanied the coffin as it was placed inside a waiting hearse, the silence broken only by the sound of a child crying.
In that moment following her funeral, this sprawling and unsettled city seemed united in its grief. Thousands of strangers lined a barren desert road, holding pink roses, candles and boxes of tissues as they said farewell to the third-grader they had never met but now know.
Christina and a picture of her smiling face transfixed Tucson and much of the nation after Saturday's strip-mall shooting rampage that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). President Obama eulogized Christina, the youngest of the slain and the first to be buried, as the face of all that America's democracy should be.
National tragedy bookended Christina's life; she was born on Sept. 11, 2001. On Thursday, a 20-by-30-foot flag damaged in the New York terrorist attack hung outside the church, attached to the ladders of two fire engines to form an arch under which mourners walked to reach the service.
In his homily at a 90-minute service that drew some 2,000 people, many of them children, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said Christina went to meet her congresswoman but instead met God and "has found her dwelling place in God's mansion."
"We now listen in silence and awe as her life speaks to us," said Kicanas, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. He added that Christina was "a little girl with the wisdom of a wise woman. You see, she wanted to make a difference in her life. . . . And she did so in so powerful a way that even she could not imagine."
Christina's service began with a single toll of the church bell marking 1 p.m. Inside, her small casket was surrounded by flowers. Her best friends escorted her into the church. A choir sang "Ave Maria" and "Like a Child Rests," while Billy Joel's "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)" was performed at the end. "Good night, my angel, time to close your eyes," the song began.
The service was steeped in faith, with readings of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Psalm 23 and the prayer of St. Francis. A bagpiper performed "Amazing Grace."
In his remarks before a tearful crowd, Christina's father, John Green, shared memories of her playing in the family's back yard and giving orders to her brother and friends, according to a pool report by the Arizona Daily Star.
Green spoke to his departed daughter: "I can't tell you how much we all miss you. I think you have affected the whole country."
Indeed, it was outside the hushed church where Christina's impact was particularly poignant. People who never knew her were misty-eyed as they waited under a warm Arizona sun to see Christina pass in her white-topped hearse.
"She did nothing to deserve this," said Belinda Mims, 48, a pharmacist whose eyes brimmed with tears beneath black sunglasses. "It could've happened to any of us. We all go to grocery stores. It was an act against all of us."
Mims looked past the church, beyond the desert brush and toward the rising Santa Catalina Mountains. Two white hawks flew overhead. "This is home," she said. "This is our world and this violent act came into our world, and it's not allowed."
On the other side of the street, JoAnna Jimenez stood behind her young daughter, Jodi, holding her shoulders. Like hundreds of other mourners, they came dressed in "angel white" to demonstrate that Christina's soul lives on.
"You have no idea how many people we know that were almost there," said Jimenez, who left work early to stand outside the service. "I could've been there. We knew about [Giffords's] 'Congress on Your Corner.' We thought about going, but we didn't."
Obama, in his address delivered here Wednesday night, remembered Christina as an A-student and an avid dancer, a swimmer and a gymnast who wanted to be the first woman to play baseball in the major league.
Obama said Christina saw public service "through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted."
"I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it."
Reaching the crescendo in his speech, Obama said, "If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today."
firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.