Phil BerriganDeath Of A Peacemaker
By Mumia Abu-Jamal
Post-War peace and anti-war activist, and former priest, Philip Berrigan, has passed into the realms of eternity.
His history, and that of his brother, former Jesuit priest, Daniel Berrigan, had been a consistent ethic of peace over war, community over chaos, and justice over injustice. Their struggle against militarism took them into draft board offices, military bases and courtrooms to bring forth a vision of the sacredness of life.
Inspired by the civil rights movement bubbling up from the blooded soil and people of the South, Philip Berrigan became convinced that wider areas of American life needed the fresh air of change. Popular historian, Howard Zinn, in his acclaimed A Peoples History of the United States, would recall Philips earliest days:
In the fall of 1967, Father Philip Berrigan (a Josephite priest who was a veteran of World War II) joined by artist Tom Lewis and friends David Eberhardt and James Mengel, went to the office of a draft board in Baltimore, Maryland, drenched the draft records with blood, and waited to be arrested. They were put on trial and sentenced to prison terms of two to six years.
In May of 1968, Philip would be joined by Daniel in an action at the draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland. There, joined by others opposed to war, would scoop up records, smear them with blood, or burn them. They came to be known as the Catonsville Nine, and would be imprisoned for their protests. Daniel would write of that action, in prophetic tones, reminiscent of Kings oratory, calling it, his Meditations:
Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise... We say: Killing is disorder, life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize. For the sake of that order, we risk our liberty, our good name. The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense
Philip and Daniel Berrigan would become the nucleus of a divergent and dynamic anti-war, peace and social justice ethic that spread far beyond them, and radiated into the hearts and minds of many.
Philip Berrigan, radicalized by the times, would come to view all of American history through a new clearer vista:
The revolution in this country was led by a nucleus of tradesmen, bankers, shippers, big shots who were uptight and furious about the imposition of economic control of their wealth by a foreign power. They knew the resources of this country. They knew its possibilities. And they didnt want foreign control and refused to submit to it. They led the nation into a fight for almost purely economic reasons... It was an economic reshuffling rather than a true revolution. (Prison Intellectuals, fr. James Joy; forthcoming, 2003. )
Philip Berrigan, at 79, leaves this planet just as one of the most-feared global wars is about to begin.
His cause has not died with him. It remains in the hearts of countless many, whose flame has been lit by his passionate adherence to the crucible of life.
Copyright 2002, Mumia Abu-Jamal, December 8, 2002