On a rainy Friday morning in the city he called home for many years, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan was celebrated more than mourned at a funeral mass at St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan.
Berrigan was championed as a priest, a poet, an activist, and a visionary who advocated for peace during the Vietnam War. His sister-in-law, Elizabeth McAlister, remembered his words in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1968: Berrigan and his brother Philip made a statement against the war by burning draft cards with homemade napalm. While on trial, he proclaimed, “This war stops here.”
It was activists more than prominent figures who filled the church, some wearing suits and ties, but others in rainbow beanies, worn jackets, purple scarves — the regular people who worked with or were inspired by Berrigan. A nuclear disarmament activist from Wisconsin, Catholic Worker representatives from Connecticut, an AIDS advocate from New York.
Of this, Berrigan likely would have approved: His work focused on pushing politicians, rather than working through or with them; he was often controversial; never satisfied.
Where is the spirit of Berrigan in America today? A world of refugees and near constant war — times which are still as “inexplicably evil” as they were in Berrigan’s day, as he wrote.
Some mourners posited that Berrigan’s inheritors were the Occupiers at Zuccotti Park, which Berrigan visited in 2011, or the disparate protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Outside Francis Xavier Church, Kevin Jones, who says he spent time in federal prison with Berrigan for conscientious objecting, thought the energy of the Vietnam-era peace movement might be found today in climate change activism, which “threatens peace as much as nuclear weapons,” Jones, 65, said.
“It’s all connected. It’s so important to see that the root is greed and selfishness.”
Mark Chiusano, an editorial writer, writes the daily column amExpress. Sign up at amny.com/amexpress.