Monday, May 2, 2016

Daniel J. Berrigan

When I turned to the NY Times this morning, as I do nearly every morning, I was saddened to learn of the death of Father Daniel J. Berrigan. He was a man – a Jesuit – a Catholic Priest – who had an enormous impact on my life and my thinking. And, Father Berrigan had a huge sense of fairness, righteousness and justice.
by Charlie Leck

I was surprised to learn from the obituary that Father Daniel J. Berrigan was born here in Minnesota in 1921 – to a father of Irish descent and a mother of German nationality. He came to my attention in the early sixties while I was struggling about the questions of racial injustice and about the senselessness of our nation’s war in Vietnam. Berrigan spoke boldly and clearly about both of these issues. And certainly, he must be regarded as one of the most important historical figures who early-on condemned the Vietnam war as gruesome, cruel and unnecessary.

Berrigan’s protest against the war was not just an academic matter, but he took to the streets and was willing to defy legal standards in order to awaken the nation to the “unrighteousness” of this war.

For instance, he and his brother, Philip, (also a priest) were arrested in 1967 for stealing draft records in Baltimore and pouring blood upon them. In 1968, Daniel and historian, Howard Zinn, traveled to Hanoi during the Tet Offensive to receive three American airmen who were being held as prisoners of war. After that he stepped up his very visible protests against the war and became a very recognized clergyman against our activities in Vietnam.

Because of Berrigan (and the young William Sloan Coffin, Jr.), I spoke from the pulpit of my church sometime during 1968 against the war and declared that Christians were called by Christ to stand in opposition to such unjust and unnecessary combat. I firmly believed it then and believe it as rigorously today.

Berrigan, however, took his protest to a new level. He accused and charged that America’s churches and synagogues were standing silent in the face of this unjust and unnecessary war.

Beginning in 1968, more and more prominent clergyman, all across America, began to speak up against the war and also joined protestors by marching in the streets, clogging traffic and making it difficult to enter or exit the entrances to federal buildings. I took part in such marches in 1968 and 1969 and Berrigan and Coffin were my constant inspirations.

So, I spent a few silent moments this morning thinking again of the toughness and faithfulness of Daniel J. Berrigan who died at the age of 94.

I recommend the obituary in the NY Times to you.

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