Secret Celebrity Award
by DCDave

Everyone knows that the United States of the late 20th century is absolutely obsessed with celebrities. Right at the top of the celebrity list are well-known actors and actresses. One of America's most famous actors is Martin Sheen. You would think that his every move would be reported, especially if his actions might be regarded as somewhat controversial.

Now I like to think of myself as a good deal better-informed than the average person about political goings-on in the country, particularly goings-on in protest against our warfare state. It strikes me that our news suppression organs had to have been working overtime to keep me and everyone I know in the dark about the political activities for which Mr. Sheen recently received an award. My friends and I would still be in the dark if the following article from the Arlington Catholic Herald, July 22, 1999, had not been brought to my attention:

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES--Actor and activist Martin Sheen was named the recipient of Pax Christi USA's highest award, but he accepted it July 16 on behalf of an elderly woman imprisoned near Fort Worth, Texas, for her protests against the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga.

Sheen, who said he had spent time in jail with many in the room, agreed to receive the 1999 Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace award from Pax Christi only if he could pass it on to activist Kathleen Rumpf, who was scheduled to be released July 19 from the Carswell State Penitentiary near Fort Worth.

The award was presented during the National Catholic Gathering for Jubilee Justice, held July 15-18 on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles.

Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va., president of Pax Christi USA, praised Sheen as "a model of conscience and action to the entertainment industry" and a Passionate advocate for peace."

"He puts his faith into action, and makes peace making and his family the priorities in his life, without counting the cost," the bishop added.

Among the causes adopted by Sheen over the years, Bishop Sullivan said, were opposition to the nuclear arms race, support for the United Farm Workers, and support for calls to close the School of the Americas and to end the civil wars in the 1980s in El Salvador and Guatemala.

After three U.S. nuns and a lay worker were killed in El Salvador in 1989, Sheen was "arrested on a weekly basis for three months" because of his non-violent protests, Bishop Sullivan said.

In addressing the crowd, however, Sheen repeatedly deflected attention from himself and praised "far more deserving people" in the audience and elsewhere.

Among them he mentioned death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean and Rev. Jim Lawson, who "taught nonviolence to Martin Luther King, Jr. and brought him to Memphis." Sister Prejean, a past recipient of the Pax Christi award, and Rev. Lawson, a retired Methodist minister, both were in the audience of several hundred people.

But foremost in his mind was Rumpf, who he said has had both knees replaced but continues to participate in nonviolent protests for which she can be imprisoned in places of "constant oppression" like Carswell.

"There's a chance she will not be released," he said. "She's one of those people who do things that cause her friends great distress. Like (the apostles said to Jesus), 'What do you want to go up to Jerusalem for, man?'"

Sheen, who is Catholic, told his audience that "one of the works of mercy that is often forgotten is visiting the imprisoned." He urged the Pax Christi members to visit someone in prison or write a letter to an inmate.

"Many of you have been in prison and know how important that is," he said.

Despite his Hollywood status, Sheen had an easy rapport with the Pax Christi members, acknowledging many of them by name and apologizing that "I know I look like Wayne Newton" because of a haircut he had gotten for a new NBC series called "The West Wing," in which he plays the president.

He later joked about staying at the podium too long, saying, "Never give an actor a microphone and good lighting."

Because of his TV role, Sheen said he could not be in Texas for Rumpf's expected release, so he gave the Pax Christi award to Ralph McCloud, a Fort Worth city councilman who chairs the diocesan justice and peace committee.

McCloud said he would pass on the award to Rumpf July 19 whether she was in jail or out. He read a recent letter from Rumpf in which she indicated that she would not sign a contract--required before her release--agreeing to pay the fine imposed on her.

David Martin
July 28, 1999

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