DANIEL BERRIGAN was many things – Jesuit priest, poet, teacher, fine cook, good listener, radical thinker, antiwar activist, pacifist. And, for his opposition to the Vietnam war, he was considered an enemy of both state and church.
Of everything he wrote, including more than forty books, these words stand out as the most memorable and most emblematic of his life: “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 of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise . . . How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened . . . When, at what point, will you say no to this war?”
That is what Berrigan said in May, 1968 as he and his brother, the late Philip Berrigan, and seven other activists, most of them nuns and priests, burned draft files they had just removed from the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and waited for police to arrive to arrest them. These words appear in Berrigan’s most famous writing, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, a play based on the transcript of the trial. It has been staged throughout the world.
When Berrigan’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth McAllister, read those words at his funeral mass today, the more than 1,000 people in attendance at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Greenwich Village responded with a thunderous and sustained standing ovation. They had come from near and far to say farewell. For many of them, these words he spoke at Catonsville had moved them into civil disobedience and resistance many years ago.