by Rosemarie Pace, Pax Christi Metro New York
Marvelous, the best thing I’ve seen, moving, enlightening, inspiring, fabulous, wonderful, beautifully done, a lovely event, a gift! Such was just some of the praise given to the man and the tribute that over 200 people paid to the iconic priest, poet, and prophet, Fr. Daniel Berrigan on Sunday, January 29th, in St. Joseph’s Greenwich Village Church. Fr. Berrigan turned 90 years old last May, and Pax Christi Metro New York (PCMNY) decided there could be no better subject for its Peacemaking through the Arts Winter Benefit than this influential man as he achieved this wonderful milestone.
The tribute began with a warm welcome from PCMNY’s co-president, Carolyn Zablotny. As she spoke, a photo of a younger Fr. Berrigan at a lectern draped with a Pax Christi banner was displayed on a large center screen. The lectern at St. Joseph’s was similarly draped this day.
After the welcome, the readings commenced. Margaret Flanagan, PCMNY secretary, served as narrator, providing background and linking excerpts from various poetry and prose of Fr. Berrigan’s prolific writings. Rosemarie Pace, Mary Anne Muller, Pierre Fidelia, Kate McDonough, and Raymond Todd gave voice to the story of Fr. Berrigan’s life as a young priest being called to peacemaking, an activist protesting war, a preacher teaching the Gospel of Nonviolence, and a defendant explaining the impossibility of not intercepting the war-makers’ deadly deeds.
Between each reading, Amanda Daloisio, Paul Fesefeldt, Jim Reagan, and Carmen Trotta, all Catholic Workers and members of the folk group, “The Filthy Rotten System” (whose name comes from a quote of Dorothy Day), led the audience in the singing of classic folk tunes.
Following the readings, everyone was treated to personal testimonials from Frida Berrigan, Fr. Berrigan’s niece; Elizabeth McAlister, his sister-in-law; and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Each shared a different aspect of how Fr. Berrigan touched his or her life, leading to and participating in his work for peace and social justice.
Finally, Fr. Berrigan, himself, slowly approached the lectern and, in his now frail voice but with his still sharp mind, read his poem, “Parable,” composed after the 9/11/01 attacks, thrilling the audience with his simple presence.
Throughout all the presentations, a remarkable PowerPoint slide show created by S. Mary Jennings highlighted key moments in Fr. Berrigan’s illustrious life and quotes from the readings.
As might be expected, once the tribute was over, numerous people surrounded Fr. Berrigan to cease the opportunity to speak to him. He humbly obliged each and every one, smiling graciously and responding to them gently.
Most also went to the hall below the church to continue the celebration, socializing and enjoying a delightful variety of refreshments, including Ben & Jerry ice cream, which bears its own story: As some might remember, back in 1994, Fr. Berrigan was one of eight social activists invited to promote Ben and Jerry’s new smooth ice cream flavors. Fr. Berrigan is seen in the ad relishing a bowl of mocha fudge. PCMNY was pleased to have a copy of the original poster on display and grateful to Ben and Jerry for donating two tubs of their delicious ice cream.
Attendees also had the opportunity to purchase three of Fr. Berrigan’s books, published by Orbis: The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness, written with Thich Nhat Hanh; Testimony: The Word Made Fresh; and Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings Selected with an Introduction by John Dear from which the readings for this tribute were chosen.
So many people contributed to the success of this tremendous event, only some of whom are named here, but all who are much appreciated. Of course, the most important of all is Fr. Berrigan, himself, and so this report ends as did the program, with his words:
Dear Brothers and Sisters everywhere: Even though this rounds off what I have to say, what I have to say continues to be said elsewhere, even by silence: Continue to resist death and say yes to life.