Daniel Berrigan, My Dangerous Friend

“I was a twenty-two-year-old seminarian in 1965, struggling to imagine myself in what already seemed the impossible life of the Catholic priest, when I came upon the writing of Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit poet. Berrigan, who died on Saturday at the age of ninety-four, quickly came to embody for me a new ideal. He testified, in his expansive life, to language itself as an opening to transcendence. What was Creation if not the Word of God, and what were human words if not sacraments of God’s real presence? Writing could be an act of worship. The idea defines me still. ​My literary fancy, in truth, had nothing to do with the hard-edged, down-to-earth actualities of Berrigan’s poems. But that same style—that rejection of clerical timidity—recruited me to his way of thinking. I met him briefly at a poetry reading that year, and was struck by his rare combination of earnestness and kindness. Yes, I would be like Daniel Berrigan. From then on, I carried his poems with me everywhere. I, too, began to wear the black turtleneck sweaters that he favored. ​In my case, emulating Berrigan was dangerous. The abyss of the Vietnam War had already opened, and I had more reason than most to avert my gaze, lest the abyss stare back. My father, an Air Force general, had been my commissioning ideal of the manly virtue I had associated with the priesthood. Now, as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he was instrumental in prosecuting the war. At my family home, on Generals’ Row at Bolling Air Force Base (our next-door neighbor was Curtis LeMay), I was regularly tutored in the tragic necessities of the killing from its onset. My father was a connoisseur of the Catholic doctrine of just war. His office was at the Pentagon. In November of 1965, a Quaker pacifist named Norman Morrison immolated himself outside the Pentagon as a protest against the war. The flames on his gasoline-doused body were visible from my father’s nearby office. I would later learn that my father was staggered by Morrison’s act, even though he regarded it as profoundly misguided. A week later, what for me was an equally shattering protest occurred. Perhaps inspired by Morrison (who, no doubt, had been inspired by self-immolating Buddhist monks in Vietnam), a young Catholic named Roger LaPorte set himself aflame across from the United Nations in New York, where, only a month before, Pope Paul VI had cried, ‘War no more!’ …”
New Yorker – by James Carroll
Daniel Berrigan, a Leader of Peaceful Opposition to Vietnam War, Inspired a Generation of Activists
The Nation: Father Daniel Berrigan Sought to ‘Build a World Uncursed by War, Starvation, and Exploitation’

Reverend Daniel Berrigan and lawyer William M. Kunstler in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 9, 1968, after Father Berrigan and eight other Catholics were sentenced to prison.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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