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‘A seed that has been planted’: Philando Castile laid to rest

ST. PAUL -- Their outfits ranged from three-piece suits to T-shirts bearing Philando Castile's face. They worshiped in somber hymns, rollicking songs and fiery sermons. The colors of the hands they clasped together across the aisles of the cathed...

Mourners follow the horse and carriage carrying the casket of Philando Castile on Selby Avenue before the funeral services for Castile at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Holly Peterson)
Mourners follow the horse and carriage carrying the casket of Philando Castile on Selby Avenue before the funeral services for Castile at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Thursday. (Pioneer Press: Holly Peterson)

ST. PAUL - Their outfits ranged from three-piece suits to T-shirts bearing Philando Castile’s face. They worshiped in somber hymns, rollicking songs and fiery sermons. The colors of the hands they clasped together across the aisles of the cathedral ran the gamut of humanity.

By turns heartbroken, joyous, hopeful and resolute, they celebrated the life of their slain friend and son. And they prayed that his death would not be in vain.

A week after Castile was shot to death by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop, a standing-room group of about 3,000 packed the Cathedral of St. Paul for his funeral - one that fused the traditionally buttoned-down Catholic venue with the free-wheeling delivery of a Baptist pastor in a service as diverse as the mourners it drew.

Castile’s family members remembered the 32-year-old - he would have been 33 on Saturday - as loving, gentle and peaceful. He cared about the children he served as a kitchen supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori school, they wrote in the program for the service. He loved playing video games, reading about his Egyptian heritage and “thinking in solitude.”

Clarence Castile, his uncle, said he was “just amazed at how many people cared about Philando.”

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His family is “hurting real bad,” he said. “I’m hurting real bad” - but “it’s Phil’s day.”

Beverly Taylor, Castile’s aunt, read a poem for him. His sister Allysza Castile, who did not speak, wrote in the program: “My brother my hero, your heart was so pure and solid as gold. … I love you forever and your legacy will continue to live on. You made history, you opened their eyes.”

Wrote his mother, Valerie Castile: “Philando, you were a quiet and humble man. … But you making some noise now Baby!!!!!! I love you.”

John Ubel, the Cathedral’s rector, welcomed The Rev. Steve Daniels Jr. and a delegation from St. Paul’s Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church into the services, saying: “On this day, no one is a visitor.”

Daniels, who delivered Castile’s eulogy, wasn’t shy in accepting the invitation - tipping to as much from the get-go, when the service began with rousing music from the local Grammy Award-winning group Sounds of Blackness and an admonition to the crowd to exchange hugs.

“Excuse me, Father,” he said with a smile. “Baptists are going to take over this Catholic Church.”

Nor was he shy in addressing the circumstances of Castile’s death, which has spurred social turmoil. Daniels decried the shooting as “a horrific, senseless act,” the product of racial profiling of an innocent man.

“Once again, we have the death of an innocent black man whose life was taken at the hands of an officer due to his wide-set nose,” he said, referring to a description of Castile, captured in police scanner audio, in which officers said he resembled a robbery suspect.

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Daniels also defended the Black Lives Matter groups that have organized recent protests, drawing applause when he declared: “The Black Lives Matter movement does not suggest that other lives don’t matter.”

He also extended a hand to law enforcement, saying: “We must learn to respect the law and thank them for their services.” A beat later, he acknowledged: “I didn’t get too many claps that time.”

In the face of divisions, “we’ve got to find ways to work together,” Daniels said. “We’ve got to find ways of coming together.”

To the family, he offered assurance that Castile’s death would serve a higher purpose.

“Your son has become a seed that has been planted, Mother. And it is a good seed that will produce a great fruit,” Daniels said.

Twin pillars supporting the Cathedral’s cavernous dome flanked him as he spoke, each bearing a painting of an angel. One read “fortitude”; the other, “justice.”

A procession from Brooks Funeral Home, about two miles away, preceded the funeral, with Castile’s white casket delivered in a horse-drawn carriage.

Gov. Mark Dayton attended the service, as did U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Keith Ellison, among other dignitaries.

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After the funeral, the Castile family fed hundreds of well-wishers during a community meal outside the J.J. Hill Montessori school on Selby Avenue, where they met behind closed doors with Dayton. The governor offered few details about the conversation but said it was an opportunity to “break bread together.”

At an open-mic remembrance for Castile, his mother, Valerie Castile, said she was gladdened to see people of different ethnicities coming together. “Anyone of us could be Philando, and I don’t want my son to have died in vain,” she said.

“He was a law-abiding citizen,” Valerie Castile continued. “He lived by the law and he died by the law. I don’t think that should happen to anyone.”

J.J. Hill parents Dennis and Thea Sear said their 11-year-old daughter, Linda, recounted how “Mr. Phil” frequently identified kids who had come to school hungry and brought them extra food, and sat down with unruly students and encouraged them to behave.

“He’d sit down and talk to them individually if they had problems with other students,” Dennis Sear said.

Linda arrived at the school with a single red rose in her hands, and as her father spoke, she nodded silently, fighting tears.

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