A holy outlaw.

AuthorZinn, Howard
PositionIt Seems to Me - Phil Berrigan

The long funeral procession for Phil Berrigan moved slowly through the streets of the poor black parish in Baltimore where he had begun his priesthood. Some parents held young children by the hand, as they walked behind the flatbed truck that carried Phil's coffin, which had been made by his son, Jerry, and was decorated with flowers and peace symbols.

It was a bitterly cold December day in the kind of neighborhood where the city doesn't bother to clear the snow. People looked on silently from the windows of decaying buildings, and you could see the conditions that first provoked Phil's anger against the injustice of poverty in a nation of enormous wealth.

Some thousand people crowded into the church. A young priest, a friend of the Berrigans, dressed in white clerical robes, officiated. The service was suffused with religious solemnity--Buddhist chants, church hymns, prayers--and in the background the soft sounds of children, while all around were colorful posters and paintings: No More War, Peace Is the Way.

Phil's wife, Elizabeth McAlister, son Jerry, and daughters Frida and Kate spoke lovingly, eloquently, of their father. Daniel Berrigan, priest, poet, and brother, read one of his poems. Bread and wine were handed out.

Someone read the statement Phil dictated to Liz when he was unable to hold a pen. He spoke of his community in Jonah House in Baltimore. "They have always been a lifeline to me." He knew the end was near, but was unwavering in his commitment: "I die with the conviction that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the Earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the Earth itself."

Phil Berrigan was a hero in a time when we cannot find heroes among the politicians in Washington, much less the timorous press.

The real heroes are not on national television or in the headlines. They are the nurses, the doctors, the teachers, the social workers, the janitors, the hospital orderlies, the construction workers, the people who keep the society going, who help people in need. They are the advocates for the homeless, the students asking a living wage for the campus janitors, the environmental activists trying to protect the trees, the air, the water. And they are the protesters against war, the apostles of peace in a world going mad with violence.

Among these was Philip Berrigan. Phil was a priest who defied his church by marrying his sweetheart, a former nun. He defied...

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