April 11, 2006

Renowned Peace Activist Stresses Nonviolent Protest

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Rev. Daniel Berrigan, an internationally renowned peace activist and Roman Catholic priest, emphasized the value of faith and nonviolent protest during a speech at Anabel Taylor Hall yesterday.

The talk, entitled “War and Peace Report: Vietnam to Iraq, Resistance to War and Empire,” helped to raise money for the families of Ithaca’s “St. Patrick’s Four” and launched “The Legacy of Activism at Cornell,” a two week event commemorating and re-examining political activism at Cornell.

Berrigan began by reflecting on the protesters of the St. Patrick’s Four. In a symbolic act to prevent war, the four activists placed blood in a military recruiting station outside of Ithaca.

As a result of this non-violent civil disobedience, a few members of the group were sentenced to four months in jail.

“The word that occurs to me tonight when thinking of the four beloved who are in prison and their families is nobility, the nobility of spirit,” Berrigan said. “To believe in dark times [that they will] go somewhere takes some doing and some faith.”

Because violence satiates society in modern times, Christians’ ability to reflect on themselves becomes limited, Berrigan said. Berrigan claimed that war replaces the Bible with a book which encourages “darkness” and “murder.”

With the confusion which emerges from violence, few dare to stand back and think twice about the government’s actions, he said. The peacemakers who do protest become trouble makers in the process.

While war may bring about hostility, Berrigan reminded the audience of the Bible’s words which command Christians to “love your enemies.” It is this phrase which causes him to conclude that there is no just war.

“It is a strange command,” Berrigan said. “Love and enemies. It seems that the two can’t co-exist, like fire and ice in your hand, but in the gospel text the word ‘love’ transforms the enemy into a friend.”

Anke Wessels, director for the center for religious, ethics and social policy, also focused on the enemy’s needs in brief remarks during Berrigan’s talk.

“I think that it is very easy and lazy to use violence, [whether] physical or psychological, and sometimes we get our way because we are more powerful, but the only way to actually resolve a conflict is through nonviolence, so both sides feel respect,” Wessels said.

Catholic Chaplain Phil Fiadino described Berrigan’s words as both an “inspiration and a challenge.” He continued, “It is a difficult challenge to live with nonviolence as the core in the center of our lives.”

Berrigan served as a prominent member of the national peace movement during the Vietnam War, while serving as assistant director of Cornell United Religious Work. In 1968, Berrigan was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison after he and other Catholic activists napalmed 378 draft cards in Maryland. After going underground to elude the FBI, Berrigan was finally apprehended after four months and released from prison in 1972. A writer and poet, Berrigan has published several memoirs, as well as books about biblical figures.

Archived article by Blair Robin
Sun Staff Writer