Sunday, May 13, 2001
Legendary activist marks a milestone
Daniel Berrigan is 80. While slowed by age, the Jesuit priest has not given
up the struggle.
By Matthew Hay Brown
NEW YORK - In a hall decorated with balloons and banners, with the beer and
wine flowing freely and long-lost friends introducing each other to
children and grandchildren, this gathering felt less like a birthday party
than a class reunion.
But it would have been an unusual sort of class. As Boston University
professor emeritus Howard Zinn put it: "Almost everyone in the room tonight
'Hey, remember when we were arrested together?' "
The quip drew laughter across the generations of peace activists and
supporters who filled the hall at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan
recently to celebrate the life of the Rev. Daniel Berrigan.
The Jesuit priest, who gained attention as a draft protester during the
Vietnam War and continues to write, speak and demonstrate against poverty
and violence, turned 80 on Wednesday.
"Dan has been one of the most important influences in my life," said
auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, a leading voice for pacifism
in the American Catholic Church. "More than ever we need Dan Berrigan. Each
and every one of us needs to recommit ourselves to what Dan Berrigan stands
It was 33 years ago, on May 17, 1968, that brothers Daniel and Philip
Berrigan, wearing their clerical garments, led protesters into the Knights
of Columbus Hall in Catonsville, Md., where they seized draft records and
set them aflame.
"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning
of paper instead of children," Daniel Berrigan wrote. "We could not, so
help us God, do otherwise."
The apology went only so far: Father Berrigan served 18 months in federal
prison at Danbury, Conn. In 1980, the brothers helped to launch the
Plowshares nuclear disarmament movement when they and six others banged
hammers on unarmed nose cones at the General Electric plant in King of
Prussia, earning more prison time.
Father Berrigan moves slowly now; he speaks softly and relies on a hearing aid.
His lanky frame is gaunt, his cheeks hollow.
But he has not given up the struggle. He was arrested with others last
month at the USS Intrepid, the aircraft-carrier-turned-museum in New York
City, in a protest against militarism.
Thirty-three years after Catonsville, Berrigan assesses the state of
society with a single word: "Awful."
"The attack on the environment, the military budget, the prospect of Star
Wars, the general contempt for human life, the life of the planet - it's a
litany of crime," he said. "But I'm very heartened by the reaction of
younger people and some of the issues they're focusing on: the School of
the Americas, sweatshops, reduction of debt, the farm workers. I have hope."
Philip Berrigan was invoked throughout the evening. The 77-year-old is
serving a one-year sentence in federal prison in Ohio for violating parole
by hammering on a warplane at Warfield Air National Guard Base in Maryland
Daniel Berrigan found comfort in the hundreds of younger activists who
packed the hall, women and men now demonstrating against the U.N. embargo
of Iraq, the deployment of U.S. military aid to Colombia, and the Navy's
practice bombing in Vieques, Puerto Rico.
"I've never yielded to any kind of serious pessimism because of the
community," he said. "In my own Jesuit community, in the community of
students I teach, in the community gathered here tonight. Look at the
diversity: the generations, the backgrounds, the families. I have hope."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed May 16 2001 - 21:18:29 EDT