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Don't bomb Bakans, priest warns

National activist talks to Pax Christi at St. Leo Church

The Independent, May 19, 1993

By Mark Rondeau
Staff writer
MIDDLETOWN, N.J. — The press is preparing America to bomb war-torn former Yugoslavia, according to the Rev. Daniel Berrigan.

Berrigan, a Jesuit and longtime anti-war activist, delivered the keynote address at the New Jersey Pax Christi Eighth Annual State Assembly at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church. Pax Christi is Latin for “Peace of Christ.”

Berrigan, who ministers to AIDS patients in New York City, feels that the media is presenting a message of “no alternatives” to bombing in the Balkan conflict between the Bosnians and the Serbians. He added, however, that he doesn’t think Western powers can stop the civil war, and any kind of military intervention will make the situation worse.

Berrigan — who became famous during the 1960s when taking part in peace protests against the Vietnam War — spoke about the famous section of the Old Testament Book of Isiah, which speaks about “beating swords into plowshares.”

The gray-haired priest called this “the impossible that must come to pass.

“If it is to be done, it must be done by God and it must be done by us,” he said. “Disarmament will happen; wars will cease; the outcome is irresistible.”

He spoke critically of “savage incursions” by the United States government, “like a litany contrived in hell: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq and (Waco) Texas.” He also criticized the idea of a comfortable level of nuclear armaments in the post-Cold War world.

“There is no acceptable war,” he said. “There is no acceptable number of weapons.”

During a break in the program, many of the 120 attendees of the assembly approached Berrigan with attitudes ranging from admiration to awe. Some asked him to sign copies of his books available for sale. With a soft-spoken and gentle manner, the priest, who turns 72 this week, obliged.

During a question-and-answer period, a man asked Berrigan what the good Samaritan described in the Gospel of Luke should have done if he had enountered the man he helped while the man was being beaten.

“I wish I had stayed home,” Berrigan said, provoking laughter, before recounting a relevant incident from the life of Mohandas Gandhi, a proponent of non-violence from India and a leader of that country’s drive for independence from British rule. Berrigan said he hoped that people would abandon the idea that non-violence means passivity before evil.

Pax Christi is an international Catholic-based peace group which seeks to help build peace and justice through Christian non-violence by applying it to personal life and society. Its section in the United States seeks to make peacemaking a priority for the Catholic Church.

The Monmouth County chapter of the organization has between 12 and 20 active members, said Antonia Malone, New Jersey state coordinator of Pax Christi.

During the assembly, Malone read a statement from the national arm of the organization, expressing alarm at calls for military intervention in response to the war in the former Yugoslavia.

“While we support the need for action to stop the suffering, we oppose violent intervention, which we believe will gravely escalate the war and jeopardize humanitarian and relief efforts,” she read.