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“His World Was Always Filled with Such Beauty”: Frida Berrigan on Her Uncle, Priest Daniel Berrigan

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As we remember the life and legacy of Father Daniel Berrigan, who died on Saturday at the age of 94, his niece Frida Berrigan reflects on the impact his activism had on her family and her own life. Frida is a longtime peace activist herself. She also writes a regular column for Waging Nonviolence. She recalls the intimate side of growing up among Father Dan, whose walls were always filled with art and who loved the late-night conversations among fellow organizers and family members. She says the community he cultivated “gave me a sense that anything is possible and that if we act in conscience, if we act together, if we are moved, we can accomplish extraordinary things.”

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Web ExclusiveMay 03, 2016“A Moral Giant”: A Democracy Now! Special on the Life & Legacy of Father Daniel Berrigan
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting from New Orleans and New York. The legendary antiwar priest, activist and poet, Father Dan Berrigan, has died at the age of 94. We spend the rest of the hour with three guests. In New York City, we’re joined by Frida Berrigan, the niece of Daniel Berrigan, longtime peace activist herself. She writes a regular column for Waging Nonviolence. Also in New York, Father John Dear, a Catholic priest and longtime peace activist, one of Dan Berrigan’s closest friends, worked with him for 35 years. He’s Father Dan’s literary executor and the editor of five books of his writings. Here in New Orleans, Louisiana, we’re joined by Bill Quigley. He’s a professor and director of the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University, one of Dan Berrigan’s attorneys. Dan taught here at Loyola in New Orleans for a time.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Frida. Your uncle passed this weekend. You saw him the day before he died. Our condolences to you and your whole family. Can you share your thoughts with us today, Frida?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Well, Amy, the first thing I want to say is thank you. You and Democracy Now! have given—given him back to us. To see his face, to hear his voice is an extraordinary gift. And I am so grateful. My family is so grateful. And so, to just be sitting here with his extraordinary legacy is overwhelming. So thank you.

I saw Dan on Friday, went to Murray Weigel in the Bronx, where he has been for a number of years. He was very weak. He was very frail. I sat with him for about two hours, and not knowing what else to do, I read to him from his autobiography, which was kind of hilarious, because he is so—he is so profound. His words are so profound. His vocabulary is beyond. And so, I faltered often, reading—reading to him. But we read about healing. We read about some of his favorite people. We read about his experiences as a young Jesuit. And I kissed him, and I said goodbye. And I said, “I’ll see you soon. I’ll see you on Sunday. I’ll come back.”

And then I was with my family, with my brother Jerry, my sister Kate, and our mother, Liz McAlister. Just we, by happenstance, happened to be gathering as a family on Friday night and Saturday, when we received word from close friends, who were gathered around Dan’s bed, that he was—that he was failing and that his breathing was labored. And we came. And we arrived—we were crossing the George Washington Bridge, that infernal bridge, when we received word that Dan had taken his last breath. And then we were able to be together and be with him for the rest of Saturday, to be with his body, to be with his spirit. And there aren’t—there aren’t words, except such gratitude for his life and for how special he was to each of us. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: I remember seeing you, Frida, many years ago, covering you being arrested at the Los Alamos nuclear lab, as well as Martin Sheen, who we heard from earlier in this broadcast. And as Martin Sheen crossed the line at the lab, about to get arrested protesting nuclear weapons, he said, “I work for GE to make a living.” General Electric owned NBC. He said, “I work for GE to make a living. I do this to stay alive.” And then you walked across the line, and you put up your arm. You were holding flowers. The influence of your uncle, Father Dan, not to mention your own father, Phil Berrigan, on your own life and your own activism?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Well, I think they and my mother and the extraordinary community, the peace community, the Catholic Worker community, gave me a sense that anything is possible and that if we act in conscience, if we act together, if we are moved, we can accomplish extraordinary things and speak—speak with power and conviction against the powers that be, and that half of it is about showing up, you know, just being—being in the streets, being with one another, being—it’s about—it’s about showing up. And Dan Berrigan showed up. He was there. You know, all of the pictures that you’re showing, so many of them are in the streets. They’re holding signs. They’re in the bitter cold. They’re in extraordinary heat. And it’s about standing up and showing up. And so, so he taught us that.

I think he also taught us that we do all of that with a spirit of joy and without—as much as we can, without ego and attachment to the outcome, that we can’t control most of it, right? We don’t set the policy. We don’t write the laws. We don’t control how the media sees us or how other people see us. We can only really control ourselves. And we go in a spirit of joy. We go in a spirit of surrender. We go holding the hands of those closest to us. So he taught me that.

And then he also taught me, taught my family, how to—how to step back, how to appreciate life, how to appreciate beauty. His world was always filled with such beauty. The walls of his apartment were crammed with beautiful works of art. He appreciated a delicious meal. He loved a drink and the kind of late-night joking and telling stories that can happen after somebody’s had a drink or two or three. And so, his apartment, in his presence, is where I saw my parents, Phil and Liz, these serious, intense, heavy people—is where I saw them lay it all down and take it all off for a minute and just enjoy being together, enjoy one another. And that was a significant gift in our lives.

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Next story from this daily show

Friends Remember Fr. Dan Berrigan: “He Said He Didn’t Believe in Heroes, He Believed in Community”

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