The radical Jesuit priest, poet, and peace activist, Daniel Berrigan has died at the age of 94.
I first encountered Fr. Berrigan’s life and work when I saw a Tim Robbins production of his play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. The Trial of the Catonsville Nine tells the true story of nine Catholics, two of them brothers and priests, who burned draft files in 1968 and were sentenced to federal prison for three years for their civil disobedience. The play begins with all of them making the Sign of the Cross and praying, before lighting the draft files with homemade napalm, and waiting to be arrested. Fr. Berrigan knew of the high civilian casualties in the war, and the use of unjust weapons, such as napalm, and argued that it was better to burn paper than children.
This type of highly controversial action continues today in the Plowshares movement. Berrigan would continue to protest and be arrested for the rest of his life.
Fr. Berrigan was the inspiration for the “radical priest” in Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Where Lazarus is poor no longer, may he rest in peace.