Thursday, January 26, 2023

Berrigan's spirit hangs over peace protest


  The comments keep coming.  Phil’s spirit always seems to be around.  Kagiso, Max

Hi Max,

My lasting memory of Phil's funeral march from Jonah House to the church was that the previous day or day before, a fire had apparently consumed a couple of the row houses along our route, and the pile of bricks and burnt rubble extended far into the street. But there was nary a barricade nor yellow tape to secure the dangerous scene from passersby, nor any city crew attending to the blocked road. 

And of course, the boarded-up row houses, some of which were obviously being squatted (path leading to a broken door, lights on inside), with stenciled notice on the plywood to call the city if one heard trapped animals inside…

& finally, a late night return to the church with Jim Noonan, after a few whiskeys in Phil’s memory, and Jim’s acerbic comment that he didn’t imagine Peter Claver’s converts, depicted in a plaque by the front door stacked like cordwood in the slave ship hull, were all exactly acting from free will.

Jack Cohen-Joppa of the Nuclear Resister which just celebrated its 200th issue


Berrigan's spirit hangs over peace protest

By Jeff Barker

Baltimore Sun

 Jul 27, 2003 at 12:00 am

In December 1999, in his last act of civil disobedience, Philip F. Berrigan banged hammers on warplanes at the Warfield Air National Guard Base in Baltimore County. He was arrested.

Yesterday, his widow, 21-year-old daughter and a few dozen friends and other peace activists returned to the gates of that base in Middle River.

Their purpose was to demonstrate support for three nuns, two of them from Baltimore, sentenced in Denver on Friday to prison terms of at least 2 1/2 years each for vandalizing a nuclear missile silo with hammers and painting a cross on it with their blood.

But, coming as it did so close to Berrigan's death from cancer in December -- and in a place linked to his legacy -- yesterday's demonstration couldn't help but stir memories of the former priest, said those who were there.

"The main reason I'm here is to honor Philip Berrigan," said Max Obuszewski, an anti-war activist and Berrigan family friend. "It's like he's here today."

Berrigan often cited Isaiah 2:4, which says, "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares ... ."

Yesterday, his daughter Kate held up a banner spelling out that biblical passage in flannel and cloth. "This was a banner we made as Dad was dying. We made it out of his old clothes," she said.

Said Elizabeth McAlister, Berrigan's widow: "This is a significant place to be. It was Phil's last plowshares action."

Berrigan, who was 79 when he died, spent more than 10 years in jail for various protests against war and weaponry.

There were no arrests yesterday. The peace activists formed a circle, and two of them read aloud the statements that Dominican nuns Carol Gilbert, 55, and Ardeth Platte, 66, had delivered to supporters before their sentencing. The nuns lived in Jonah House, a Baltimore pacifist community that Berrigan founded.

Gilbert's statement had closed with a quote from Philip's brother, Daniel Berrigan: "Know where you stand and stand there."

As the nuns' statements were reread yesterday, some passers-by honked their car horns in support of the protesters, who waved signs with such messages as "Peace Begets Peace. Violence Begets Violence" and "War is Terrorism."

Other drivers leaned out the windows of their vehicles and cursed or yelled. "Traitors!" one man said. "Hey, if you don't like America, move over there," said another.

"Peace to you!" a few of the demonstrators yelled back.

One of the Berrigan's lessons was avoiding bitterness in the face of adversity, said John Oliver, a local hospice chaplain who attended the rally yesterday.

"Phil spent 11 years in jail and he was able to retain a peacefulness inside," Oliver said. "He was grounded in a way that kept him from getting bitter."

Oliver was among the attendees at a ceremony this month in which Berrigan's hand-carved tombstone was unveiled. "There wasn't a protest that day," Oliver said, smiling. "There was a joyful gathering. It was very spirit-filled."

Many of the anti-war protesters who showed up yesterday have faced chilly receptions of late while urging an end to the United States' involvement in Iraq.

"I've been doing this for 15 years, and it seems like it's gotten worse, not better. But any real societal change takes time," said Ellen Barfield, 47, a local peace activist. Her first vigil was in 1985 -- a protest at an assembly plant for nuclear warheads near Amarillo, Texas.

An Army veteran, Barfield said it is a popular misconception that anti-war demonstrators don't support the troops in Iraq. "Of course I support the troops. I think throwing 20- year-olds in front of a pressure cooker is not supporting them."

She said the period after Berrigan's death had been a time to reflect -- and then continue the fight. "Of course it's very hard to lose him, but we're all the more committed to what we believe, which is that there is a spark of humanity in all of us," she said.


Donations can be sent to Max Obuszewski, Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 431 Notre Dame Lane, Apt. 206, Baltimore, MD 21212.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs



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