Friday, April 23, 2010

"Living with Dan Berrigan" by George Anderson SJ - America mag.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

American Magazine


"Living with Dan Berrigan"


Author: George Anderson, S.J. <>


Living in the same Jesuit community as Dan Berrigan--what a privilege

to share meals and conversation with this great man, an icon of the

anti-war movement who was willing to spend time behind bars to assert

his opposition to war-related violence, and in fact all forms of

violence, including abortion. His former community on West 98th Street

moved a year ago to Thompson Street in lower Manhattan, in space

rented from the Franciscans next to St. Anthony of Padua church. I

myself moved to that location last summer as the new boy on the block.

The other seven have lived together for decades and so know one

another well. What struck me right away was the realization that here

indeed was a community that exemplified people who are of one heart

and mind, as Luke describes the early Christian community in Acts 4:32.


Dan will turn 89 on May 9th and is still going strong. He continues to

write, and excerpts from his books were recently gathered by his close

Jesuit friend, John Dear, and published by Orbis in its Modern

Spiritual Masters Series under the title Daniel Berrigan: Essential

Writings. Dan’s nonviolent protests continue. Once again this year, he

took part in Pax Christi’s annual Good Friday Way of the Cross, a

prayerful walk across Manhattan from the UN to the Intrepid Sea, Air

and Space Museum. The Intrepid itself is a huge aircraft carrier, for

many a symbol of war. There, Dan and several other women and men

peacefully protested for peace, using pieces of paper cut in the form

of small coffins to represent civilians and service members killed in

the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On being arrested for “disorderly

conduct,” they were taken to a local precinct for booking. But

thankfully, as Dan told us later in the day at home, the police

treated him and the others gently.


Reminders of Dan’s earlier years abound in our community’s home. A

black and white brush stroke picture by Thomas Merton hangs on one

landing. It serves as a reminder of the friendship that united them in

their opposition to the Vietnam War. Dan and his brother, the

Josephite priest Philip, founded an interfaith coalition against it.

(A photograph from that period in the early 1960s shows the two

brothers seated with Merton under the trees at the Trappist monastery

in Kentucky. Dan and Merton frequently corresponded and their letters

are now in the Bellarmine Merton Collection at Bellarmine University

in Louisville, Ky.)


As part of his opposition to the Vietnam War, Dan traveled with his

friend the late Professor Howard Zinn to Hanoi in North Vietnam to

assist in the 1968 release of three American pilots. The diary he kept

of this mission, together with 11 poems, became Night Flight to Hanoi.

As Night Flight makes clear, Dan is a poet of distinction. His first

book of poetry, Time without Number won the Lamont Poetry Prize in

1957. He is also a playwright, author of the “Trial of the Catonsville

Nine,” based on the trial of the nine peace activists who removed 378

draft files from the Selective Service office in Catonsville, Md., and

burned them with homemade napalm in the parking lot outside. Dan and

Philip were among the nine.


Dan and Philip subsequently served three years in the federal prison

in Danbury, Connecticut. Recently at dinner one evening in the

community, Dan told us the story of a doctor who, on a visit to a

local emergency room years later, inquired if he were “the” Father

Berrigan. On Dan’s assenting, the doctor said that his own draft files

may have been among those burned, because he had expected to be sent

to Vietnam. Instead, he was able to go to medical school.


Such stories are frequently told as we sit together in the evening.

Fellowship with this remarkable man is a reminder that prophets still

live among us. Recently, the first reading for Thursday, April 15 was

from Acts 5. Several of us were gathered in the room where we

celebrate our regular masses. Dan offered to do the first reading. It

was the passage that describes the post-resurrection disciples

preaching so boldly that the Sanhedrin summoned chastised them for

speaking of Jesus. Peter replied: “Better for us to obey God than

men.” Dan has lived out that statement throughout his long life.


George Anderson, S.J




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