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When Father Daniel Berrigan, a radical pacifist priest, died at the end of April, many people had kind words of remembrance. Actor Martin Sheen also had some things to say about the man who inspired him into activism and changed his life.

Sheen respected the non-violent aspect of Berrigan’s civil disobedience, which came to his attention during the Vietnam War. When Berrigan was on the lam for burning draft cards and encouraging people to be willing to get arrested, someone asked Berrigan what would happen to the children if the parents went to jail for the cause. Berrigan answered, “What’s going to happen to them if you do not?”

Though Sheen himself was not interested in risking arrest at that time, he was profoundly moved by this statement. To him, he says, it meant that if you believe something, it had to cost you something, and if it did not cost you, you’re left to question its value.

In 1981, however, when Sheen was filming In the King of Prussia, a documentary about the trial of people who had entered the assembly plant of General Electric and poured blood on the nose cones of some missiles, he met Father Berrigan in person and a friendship developed.

Then in New York in 1986, there was a demonstration organized against then president Regan’s star wars initiative to put nuclear weapons into outer space.

“I went to that very first demonstration and I was arrested for the very first time for civil disobedience, with Dan Berrigan,” says Sheen in an interview with CBC’s AIH, "and it was the happiest day of my life, because I had done all that I possibly could to speak against the immorality of nuclear weapons, and particularly in placing them in outer space. And I had done it non-violently and I suffered the consequences, which meant arrest and jail. Dan led the demonstration, and he did it with such humor and disarming attitude. He even invited the police who were arresting us to join the protest because he assured them that they would agree with what we were protesting against.

“Dan never measured success in terms of victories or defeats. It was a question of commitment. That was the victory. We could not count on victory as the world knew victory, like people win a war. Peace does not compete on that level. Peace is something that one has to discover within our own cracked hearts. It has to become part of our everyday lives. It begins at home and it spreads to the family and the community and then the nation and the world, but it takes a deeply personal commitment. […] The only failure is in not doing. That is the legacy that Dan Berrigan gave to me.”

You can listen to the whole interview here on AIH.

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