"It was the Happiest Day of My Life": Martin Sheen Recalls His Arrest Alongside Father Dan Berrigan

May 02, 2016

Actor and activist Martin Sheen became close friends with Dan Berrigan. He played the trial judge in the film "In the King of Prussia," which chronicles how the Berrigan brothers and six others began the Plowshares Movement when they broke into the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in 1980. In 1986, Martin Sheen was arrested along with Father Dan Berrigan in New York City. When he heard of Father Dan’s passing, Martin Sheen reflected on his experience being arrested alongside the legendary priest, saying, “It was my first arrest for a noble cause, and it was the happiest day of my life.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Martin Sheen became close friends with Father Dan Berrigan. On Sunday, after he learned of Dan Berrigan’s death, he offered these thoughts on his passing.

MARTIN SHEEN: Before he went into prison for the Catonsville Nine action, he gave a series of talks. He would—he would surface. You know, he was underground, and he would surface every now and then. And he was holding a kind of a press conference with some peace people and reporters, and he was just about to be captured and sent away. And someone in the crowd—he was advocating that all of us should risk arrest and prison, if we really wanted to stop this war, because that’s what the government was doing with young men’s lives, so we had to step up. And someone in the audience said, "Well, fine, Father Berrigan. It’s all well and good for you to advocate going to prison. You don’t have any children. What about us? We have children. What’s going to happen to our children if we go to prison?" And Dan said, "What’s going to happen to them if you don’t?" And that had a most profound effect on me. I thought, "Oh, my god, yes, we are called to nonviolent resistance, that is very costly. And if what we believe doesn’t cost us something, then we’re left to question its value."

And still I didn’t—I didn’t join Dan for a protest until 1986. I was in New York doing a film, and I had a day off. And so, I heard about a demonstration over at the 42nd Street, and trying to block the entrance to where—you know, the McGraw-Hill Building, when they were planning basically to place nuclear weapons in outer space. This was the so-called—Reagan’s strategic plan, Star Wars. And I went to that demonstration, and Dan was there. And it was my first arrest for a noble cause, and it was the happiest day of my life, and I’ll never forget. It was so disarming. Dan was, you know, kind of leading the group in prayer and singing. And the police finally arrived and said, "Now, come on, you guys. You’ve got two minutes to disperse." And Dan said to the presiding officer, "Come on, Officer, you believe in this cause. Get in here and join us." And he backed away and said, "Oh, no, no, Father, please, please, don’t." He made it so human, so down to earth.

But the world has lost a great peacemaker and humanitarian and poet and such an inspiration and such a—you know, it’s hard to describe the effect he’s had without becoming—I don’t know what. It’s like you’re describing someone that could not possibly have lived, and yet we knew him and loved him and worked with him and celebrated with him. And in a few days, we’re going to gather to celebrate his life and to send him on his way.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the actor Martin Sheen remembering his dear friend Father Dan Berrigan, who died on Saturday, just shy of his 95th birthday. We will hear Father Dan in his own words in a minute.

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