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Berrigan Remembered as Friend, Protester of War and Injustice
Published on Tuesday, December 10, 2002 by the Baltimore Sun
Berrigan Remembered as Friend, Protester of War and Injustice
Mourners fill church for farewell to fighter in the peace movement
by Kimberly A.C. Wilson
 

The mourners filled the street yesterday in West Baltimore because Philip Berrigan gave focus to the anti-war movement 40 years ago. They packed a black parish because Mr. Berrigan confronted racism and patriarchy and injustice long after the civil rights movement.


Pallbearers carry Philip Berrigan's casket into St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. At left are brothers Daniel (in yellow scarf) and Jerry (blue jacket). (Sun photo by John Makely)
They braved sub-freezing temperatures to say farewell to an artilleryman and infantry lieutenant turned Roman Catholic priest, remembered as a husband, father, peace activist and prisoner.

"I didn't know him but I've been a longtime admirer of him so I came here out of respect," said Michael Redmond, 50, who drove from Philadelphia to join several hundred mourners. The mourners followed a blue Ford pickup truck carrying Mr. Berrigan's varnished wooden casket from Jonas House, where he lived, to St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church in Upton, which he once presided over.

The procession filled the icy air with sound and color: A kilted bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," the wind lifted the gossamer wings of papier-mache doves and members of the New England Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in Leverett, Mass., drummed and chanted.

Mechanics at J&J Auto Repair took a break to watch the rare sea of white faces weaving past the burned and crumbling rowhouses of the historically black neighborhood. Mr. Berrigan arrived there to preach in 1966.

Philip Berrigan
Philip Berrigan
Many had reason to spend the day remembering Philip Berrigan, who died Friday of kidney and liver cancer at age 79.

Retired hospital technician Mary Holt attended St. Peter Claver School in the 1950s and met Mr. Berrigan there.

"He was a good man," said Ms. Holt, 64. "Extreme, but I understand that his extremism was for truth and justice and good."

"He was a warrior," said the Rev. Howard Eichmiller, 77, retired priest and missionary. "He fought for what he believed.

Sister Clare Carter, who spent last week fasting with Buddhist monks at the White House to protest military action against Iraq, said it was fitting that her protest came to an end in time to attend Mr. Berrigan's funeral.

"We've been connected and inspired by the whole movement of Philip Berrigan," the nun said as pallbearers lifted the casket from the truck and carried it inside the church. "We feel completely at one with what he and his whole community are about."

Close friends Babs Golden and Connie Hankins said they were grateful for Berrigan's warrior pacifism. "He was a totally committed man," said Ms. Golden, 64.

That commitment drew actor Martin Sheen to Mr. Berrigan in 1981.

They met during the filming of In The King of Prussia, a courtroom docudrama about Mr. Berrigan's arrest a year earlier after a protest at the General Electric plant in King of Prussia, Pa. In the incident, Mr. Berrigan, his brother Daniel and six others, who came to be known as the Plowshares Eight, poured vials of blood on warheads to protest the manufacture of nuclear weapons.


Actor Martin Sheen of television's "The West Wing" pays his respects to Elizabeth McAlister, Philip Berrigan's widow, outside St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church in Upton after the funeral Mass. (Sun photo by John Makely)

Mr. Sheen starred as the judge in the trial, and he developed an abiding friendship with Mr. Berrigan. "I haven't been the same since," he said, pausing for a quick cigarette before joining Mr. Berrigan's daughters, son and wife behind the altar. "Philip was a mentor and a hero -- with a great Irish wit with a total commitment to human justice -- and I adored him."

The Rev. Edward Warfield, an Episcopal priest from St. Bartholomew's in Ten Hills, recalled marching with Mr. Berrigan in Baltimore during a protest against the Vietnam war.

"He's part of my history, part of our history," he said. "Philip Berrigan has been a sincere and strong voice crying out for peace. I wonder who will replace this voice that the world so radically needs to hear?"

Inside the filled church, where more than 600 people gathered, the Rev. John Dear offered a 2 1/2 -hour Mass of resurrection that captured the humor, passion and dedication of a man who inspired others to protest.

The service was replete with competing emotions.

Eyes watered as Elizabeth McAlister, Mr. Berrigan's widow and a former nun, delivered a Gospel reading about the resurrection of Lazarus. The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, one of four surviving Berrigan brothers, drew chuckles recalling Philip Berrigan's legendary impatience.

"Philip was impatient from 1967 until the day of his death," he said. "He learned it at the hands of judges and jailers."

Wrapping up his eulogy, Brendan Walsh, one of the Catonsville Nine -- the Berrigan-led group that staged one of the most dramatic protests of the 1960s by dousing homemade napalm on a small bonfire of draft records in a Catonsville parking lot -- remembered getting ready to drive a parish car that day.

"Phil grabbed the keys and said he'd drive," Mr. Walsh said. "He would make sure those killing licenses would be burned. Talk about intensity. I thought about Jesus overturning the tables of the temple."

During their 35-year friendship, Mr. Berrigan, a member of the Society of St. Joseph order, spent about 11 years behind bars, Mr. Walsh said.

"Think about it," he said, tearfully. "That's one of every three days. And he never complained, and he never whined. He was that tree standing by the water that would not be moved."

Max Obuszewski, a local peace activist who was arrested with Mr. Berrigan more than once, compared walking beside him to "walking with Gandhi."

"Unyielding," Mr. Obuszewski said simply. "He would not back down from anyone."

Of her father, youngest daughter Kate Berrigan said: "He showed us all what it meant to be free."

Near the end of the service before a private burial, Ms. Berrigan ran down a list of many prisons or jails where her father was held -- Danbury, Conn., Elkton, Ohio, and Baltimore County, to name a few -- and recalled how inmates and relatives had to greet through telephones and smudged windows.

"Dad never seemed touched by that even in those awful places," she said. "He was still free."

Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun

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