It was raining a downpour in New York City on May 6th as we joined the procession at Dorothy Day’s home, Mary House Catholic Worker on East 3rd St., to make our way with a brass band and banners to St. Francis Xavier Church on West 16th St. Drenched but full of spirit we were waking up the city at 7:30 a.m. to celebrate the life of Fr. Daniel Berrigan. I was marching with Anne Dowling, a friend from School of the Americas Watch, and my partner, Max Obuszewski. Max was a friend of Dan’s and did resistance with him as well as with his brother, Phil.
At Washington Square, wide eyed and smiling, we danced, marched and sang to show our gratitude for the life of this courageous pacifist priest, a mentor and guide to so many during his nearly 95 years.
From across the country we came, Catholic Workers, peace and justice activists and from other walks of life, hugging each other. Many of us were elated to gather as friends who did resistance together to bring about the Beloved Community. “Didn’t we get arrested together?” we asked each other as we met.
Once inside the church Max and I encountered hundreds and hundreds of people, many of whom were friends and fellow resisters.
Once the memorial service began, however, how disappointing to see only one female dressed in white among the sea of male priests in white albs move up to the altar in this liberal parish. Who was she? Francis has announced the Year of Mercy! When is gender equality going to come in the Roman Catholic Church? When Dan Berrigan died, those of us in the women priest movement re-read his 1977 piece on women and women priests. He supported us.
My eyes water, my heart stirs as I read Dan’s poem, “We Love,” at the beginning of the program: “What we love: there are not blades enough.” I recall reading his book about Daniel in the Lion’s Den while in federal prison and a few years ago Wisdom: The Feminine Face of God during our trial for our witness at the nuclear weapons plant in Kansas City, MO.
As we gather for the Eucharist we sing “We Are Called” by David Haas. Paging through this remarkable liturgy put together by Frida Berrigan in less than five days, I come across songs we sing at women priest ordinations, including my favorite, “The Servant Song.”
It is the Gospel of John: 32-45 that is proclaimed. After Mary professes her faith in Jesus, he calls the dead Lazarus back to life.
I am delighted that rebel priest, Jesuit Steve Kelly, is giving the homily. Before he begins, he wonders if any FBI agents are present and suggests that it’s time to close their case on Dan Berrigan. Laughter and clapping echo through the church! Steve has the reputation of being in and out of jail. Buckle in and get ready to hear the Spirit in Steve’s homily on live streaming!
During the prayers of petition a woman addresses Dan’s support of women on the altar and the people in the pews approve, clapping uproariously!
For Communion everyone processes through the center aisle. I had put on my stole this morning, green quilted with scenes from the Gospels made by a Colombian women’s prison cooperative. I wore it in Rome when I was detained by the Italian police during the Conclave in 2013 for “dressing like a priest.” I had been ordained five years!
When I reached the front in the Communion line, it occurred to me that I might be denied Eucharist because I was excommunicated for following my conscience and being ordained. However, the eyes of the priest, John Cecero, smiled and welcomed me. What a blessing to be here!
During the celebration the Berrigan family shared their memories of Dan and we listened intently.
We were sent forth with Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” filling this glorious place abounding in the goodness of Dan Berrigan’s life and the love of those who knew him. What an unforgettable celebration of such a life-giving man! Although I never met Daniel Berrigan, he touched me through his writings and his actions.
I have much to share about the celebration of Daniel Berrigan’s life with our women priest community and women priest friends and supporters, former Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois, founder of the SOA Watch, and Franciscan priest and peace activist, Jerry Zawada, who has been punished by his order for his support of women priests.
Dan Berrigan, priest, poet, prophet, presente! And, thank you…