Vulnerable and imprisoned people were honored Wednesday evening in the poetry of long-time peace activist Daniel Berrigan.
At a podium surrounded by peace lilies, and between performances by the Loring String Quartet, Berrigan performed poetry depicting his long and turbulent life as a peace activist.
Before a crowd of about 200 people in Willey Hall, Berrigan read a series of poems he wrote while he was in prison for burning Vietnam War draft documents. He referred to his time in prison by saying, “While I was under this federal scholarship…”
Berrigan, who is a Jesuit priest, and his brother, Phillip Berrigan, were born in Ely, Minn. Although they are best known for their activism during the Vietnam War, they have actively protested wars, weapons and social injustices for many years.
In May of 1968 the Berrigan brothers and seven others removed files from a draft office in Cantonsville, Md., and burned them in protest. Berrigan spent a year and a half in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn. for charges related to that incident.
Last week, Daniel Berrigan was arrested for participating in a demonstration outside the Israeli Consulate in New York. He was demonstrating for the release of an Israeli citizen he said is being unjustly imprisoned by the Israeli government.
Another section of poetry he read was about the victims of social injustices, whom he referred to as “vulnerable people.” In a poem titled “Fidelity,” a verse read, “Alas folks, freaks, minority spirits, we’ve lost again.”
His poetry reading was sponsored by the University’s Program in Human Rights and Medicine. Berrigan, 75, is a member of the program’s advisory board.
“This is going to be a great thing for the students and the younger people involved,” Berrigan said of the University’s Program in Human Rights and Medicine. “This ability to get professional skills where they belong — in service to one another instead of in service to create sanctioned violence.”
The most recent of Berrigan’s 45 books, “Isaiah: Prophet of Change, Voice of Tears,” was first released in September. The work is a study of the Bible book Isaiah, and how its contents relate to recent world events.
Phillip Berrigan, a former Catholic Priest, and his wife, Lizz McAlister, a former nun who is also an activist, will speak at Willey Hall next Wednesday at 7 p.m.