Lives Remembered

Fr Dan Berrigan: activist, poet and prophet

Jesuit priest and anti-war activist Fr Daniel Berrigan died aged 94. Picture by AP/David Pickoff

I had often heard of Dan Berrigan when I was a student in Maynooth in the 1960s.

During the Vietnam War, Dan and his brothers and friends had protested loudly and dramatically.

He was arrested and put in prison many times for civil disobedience.

He wrote about his experiences as well as a play on the trial of the Catonsville Nine who were arrested for burning draft cards near Washington DC.

When I met Dan for the first time it was during the first hunger strike in November 1980 and he was anxious to hear about the republican prisoners and their families.

Dan was always a loyal friend of the downtrodden throughout the world and especially here in the north of Ireland during 1980 and 1981.

He was very disturbed by the suffering of prisoners in Long Kesh and Armagh jails.

He travelled over to Belfast with some friends in 1981 to show his solidarity. This brought him hostility in some quarters but did not deter him. He was well used to that.

With his profile and contacts he was able to get some publicity for the hunger strikers in the US, much to the annoyance of the British representatives there. He managed to get an opinion piece in the New York Times.

Having spent many years in prison himself for civil disobedience, Dan empathised with prisoners everywhere.

Even though he was a complete pacifist and always confronted violence, he did not condemn those who felt it necessary to resort to arms.

Dan argued against it but never in an arrogant way. He told me that he could not judge people who took up arms after they had been subjected to brutal oppression.

He would rather they chose a different path but he respected their decision.

Throughout his life his main focus was the US government's policy of building more and more nuclear weapons which as well as endangering the planet, deprived the poor and the hungry of necessary resources.

I joined him in 1982 on one of the many protests he carried out at a nuclear research station in New York city. We got arrested and hauled before the court.

We were discharged and bound to good behaviour for a period of time. That did not stop Dan. He went on to be arrested on a number of occasions afterwards.

I kept in touch after I returned to Ireland and I used to visit him and his brother Phil whenever I was in the States.

I was always sure of a warm welcome and an invitation to evening tea in the Jesuit community refectory and some refreshments afterwards in his small apartment.

He was always eager to hear about the situation in the north and about the friends he had made including Bernadette McAliskey and Des Wilson.

Almost two years ago, I visited Dan in the Jesuit nursing home in the Bronx. He was very frail and barely able to speak. I was so glad to see him again.

He was 94 years of age and his body was worn out from living a full life in the service of the poor and downtrodden of the earth.

Dan Berrigan fought the good fight with courage and determination. His life was a great witness to peace and justice.

He not only preached the Gospel Beatitudes, he lived them courageously and fearlessly.

He now shares fully with all his beloved family and friends in the new life promised by the Risen Christ.

I am sure he will continue to inspire women and men to oppose weapons of mass destruction and those who prepare for war.

Fr Joe McVeigh

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Lives Remembered