FRIENDS and family of murdered Bishop David O'Connell paid tribute to the late priest at his funeral Mass in Los Angeles on Friday.
Around 5,000 mourners at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels heard from friend and fellow Irish priest Fr Jarlath Cunnane, who called Bishop O'Connell his Anam Cara, or 'soul friend'.
Speaking on behalf of the family, the bishop's nephew and namesake, David O'Connell, told those in attendance that his uncle was the 'rock of the family'.
Meanwhile, Archbishop José H. Gomez read out a message of condolence from Pope Francis, praising Bishop O'Connell for his decades of service in helping those marginalised in society.
Bishop O'Connell was laid to rest after being fatally shot two weeks ago.
Opening the service, Archbishop Gomez read a message from the Pontiiff sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
"Deeply saddened to learn of the untimely and tragic death of Auxiliary Bishop David O'Connell," read the message.
"His Holiness Pope Francis sends heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness to you, the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese.
"He joins you in giving thanks for Bishop O'Connell's years of devoted priestly and episcopal ministry to the Church in Los Angeles, marked especially by his profound concern for the poor, immigrants and those in need, his efforts to uphold the sanctity and dignity of God's gift of life and his zeal for fostering solidarity, cooperation and peace within the local community."
'Blessed to have had David'
Mourners then heard from Sligo native Fr Cunnane, who said he couldn't have wished for a better friend to accompany him on his journey through the priesthood and in life.
He and Cork-born Bishop O'Connell had been friends since meeting at All Hallows College in Dublin in 1971, when they began studying for the priesthood.
Addressing those gathered, the Pastor of St Cornelius' Church in Los Angeles said the pair would meet once a week for dinner in Downey, LA.
"I thank God for the blessing of having him as my friend for more than 50 years since 1971," said Fr Cunnane.
"We walked that road together, caminantes juntos, wayfarers together.
"I can't imagine having walked that road without David by my side, I'm sure I would have got lost, I would have gone astray.
"I've been talking about the Anam Cara, the Irish word for the friend of a soul, the soul friend.
"You're blessed if you have a soul friend and I was blessed to have had David."
Fr Cunnane joked about their Cork-Sligo rivalry but revealed how he was 'heartbroken' at the death of a friend, who had supported him during a period of poor health.
"He's from Cork, it's a county in Ireland, and I'm from Sligo, a more important county in Ireland," he quipped.
"David always said there was a big difference between a Sligo man and a Cork man.
"He said, 'a Cork man might leave without saying goodbye, but a Sligo man would say goodbye but he wouldn't leave'!
"Over the last number of years, I've had a good bit of sickness.
"He feared I was going to say goodbye but I didn't.
"I'm here and he was faithful to me all the time I was in the hospital, every day.
"But now, he, Cork man that he is, has left without saying goodbye; we are heartbroken."
Later, Bishop O'Connell's nephew spoke of his family's 'wonderful memories' of spending time with the priest when he returned to Ireland or when they visited LA.
He said that despite his uncle's passing, something positive could come from the tragedy if people carry on his legacy of helping those less fortunate.
"These past few days I feel that we have needed him now more than ever," said a tearful Mr O'Connell.
"He would be the one taking you aside, checking in, making sure you were OK, giving you encouraging words and getting you through it.
"He was really the rock of the family, the one you went to for advice and support.
"We are all heartbroken but now for me and my family and for everyone who is listening here today, there comes an opportunity.
"We now all have the opportunity to pick up where he left off and to carry the example that he set."
Carlos Medina, 61, the husband of Bishop O'Connell's housekeeper, has been charged with murder.
Speaking last week, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said Medina could face 35 years to life if found guilty.
Medina's formal arraignment is scheduled for March 22 at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center.