Wednesday, August 16, 2006


My friend, Ben, just received a little gift from Kathleen Rumpf. Ms. Rumpf is a member of the Catholic Worker's Movement. For the last couple of weeks, she's been sitting outside Carswell's Women's Prison protesting the corruption and cruelty which she experienced first-hand while in the custody of the hospital there. A peace activist all her life, she's been arrested more than a hundred times. Her latest arrest was for protesting at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Ben and I drove out there and talked to her. It was over a hundred degrees that day, as it had been just about every day she was there. At night, she slept on a mattress thrown on the ground. A picture of the Virgin Mary decorated a lone tree providing the only shade to her little encampment. She had nothing, but she seemed to be about the happiest person alive.

While we were there, she handed Ben a 4 x 6-inch card. Ben stood there looking at it, smiling. Then, he handed it to me. On the face of the card was a reproduction of an icon painting of Father Philip Berrigan, who died in 2002. Does anyone remember him, I wonder? He was a Josephite priest, and one of our country's most revered peace activists. He and his brother, Daniel, a Jesuit priest, kicked up a lot of trouble during the Vietnam era. Daniel's still alive and kicking.

Ms. Rumpf said she has patterned her life after Philip's example. She and the Berrigans, and others, like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are reminders that being religious can mean something altogether different from the right-wing Christian view that somehow God is on our side in Iraq and it's perfectly okay to bomb people into submission to our way of life.

At the same time, it can also mean far more than just sitting around making a lot of "spiritual" talk with like-minded people, yet never venturing beyond the cozy comfort of church walls, to do something as unsafe as standing with others to protest war or poverty or other injustices.

Philip Berrigan fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Later, he became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He marched for desegregation, took part in sit-ins and bus boycotts. He and his brother, Daniel, and the famed theologian, Thomas Merton, founded an interfaith coalition against the Vietnam War.

On October 27, 1967, the "Baltimore Four," consisting of Philip, the artist Tom Lewis, and poet, teacher and writer, David Eberhardt and United Church of Christ missionary and pastor, the Rev. James L. Mengel, poured blood (including Berrigan's) on selective service records in the Baltimore Customs House.

Waiting for police to arrest them, they passed out Bibles. Berrigan said:
"This sacrificial and constructive act is meant to protest the pitiful waste of American and Vietnamese blood in Indochina."
He was sentenced to 6 years in prison, the first American priest to be arrested for an act of civil disobedience.

In 1969, following his release on bail, Phil Berrigan repeated the protest in a somewhat modified form. Using homemade napalm, nine activists, who later became known as the "Catonsville Nine," walked into the Catonsville, Maryland draft board and burned 378 draft files. On that day, Berrigan said:
"We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country's crimes. We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is racist, is an accomplice in this war, and is hostile to the poor."
At their trial, the "Catonsville Nine" offered no formal defense, other than to make statements to explain themselves and their actions. Philip's brother, Daniel, read this statement from his Catonsville meditations:
"Our apologies, dear friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of papers instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise."

On the reverse side of the card Kathleen Rumpf gave to Ben is this prayer--the final writing of Philip Berrigan.
"The following occur to me as worthwhile subjects of prayer:
*that we disarm our hearts and our society
*that the Holy Spirit subvert, stalemate, and expose preparation for the invasion of Iraq
*that God intervene in the ecological crisis as Lord of Creation, because we refuse to change our
abuse of the earth
*that Americans begin to understand and resist the three-pronged aims for the Bush Administration: the trashing of civil liberties, perpetual war, and world domination
*that the swindle of "foreknowledge" by the Bushites of 9/11 be fully disclosed
*that the "crime" of 57 years of nuclearism, and its consequent wasting of our lives, and planet be revealed
*that Americans grasp that war is our #1 business; that we are a violent, killer people, and that we know virtually little of the nonviolence of Jesus and the Gospel
*that the scourges of abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty be ended
*that the U.S. withdraw all economic and military aid to Israel
*that the global war against children be lifted
*that the rich West contribute medication and food to the global victims of HIV-AIDS
*that each of us become people of fidelity, nonviolence, and justice



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