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New Yorkers Remember Anti-War Activist Father Daniel Berrigan


In New York this morning, hundreds of mourners paid their last respects to the Jesuit priest and pacifist Daniel Berrigan. He was 94 when he died last Saturday. Berrigan came to prominence in 1968, when he and eight others publicly burned stolen draft files to protest the Vietnam War. Jim O'Grady of member station WNYC reports that Berrigan's funeral mass was preceded by a celebratory march through the streets of Manhattan.

JIM O'GRADY: The early-morning march stretched about a dozen blocks and moved under a steady rain, like a soggy second line transplanted from New Orleans to New York. Berrigan's niece, Freda Berrigan, said singing anthems and carrying banners was the right way to remember her Uncle Dan.

FREDA BERRIGAN: We're marching today because we're connecting the church and the sacraments that we'll have there to the sacrament of the street and the sacrament of resistance.

O'GRADY: Dan Berrigan made a career of resisting a long list of ills - war, nuclear weapons, racism, poverty. His critics accused him of, quote, "a preening moral rectitude" and faulted him for dragging the Catholic Church into a radical criticism of American politics. But despite those accusations and despite his lifelong immersion in dire issues, one of Father Berrigan's favorite words was hope.

BERRIGAN: At family occasions, he would stop the conversation, he would stop the chitchat and say, well, let's have a sharing. Let's go around in a circle. What gives you hope?

O'GRADY: The marchers joined about a thousand people in packing Saint Francis Xavier Church in Chelsea, where a lot of sharing went on about how the soft-spoken Jesuit with the uncompromising rhetoric could give a talk and change the direction of the life. Josie Setzler of Fremont, Ohio, drove 11 hours to be at Berrigan's funeral.

JOSIE SETZLER: I first heard Daniel Berrigan - he came to Toledo during the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002 in October. And I so - he said such challenging words. And he said you had to do peacemaking out of community. And I said, who is my community? I have to find it. And I've been finding it ever since.

O'GRADY: Father John Dear was a Berrigan friend for 35 years. As a 20-year-old, he nervously asked Dan Berrigan, what is the meaning of life? Berrigan responded...

JOHN DEAR: If you want to be hopeful, you have to do hopeful things.

O'GRADY: Hope - that word again. Father Berrigan went on to say, know where you stand, and stand there. For NPR News, I'm Jim O'Grady in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim O'Grady
Jim O'Grady is a contributor to NPR's Planet Money podcast.