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Sheen and Father Shay Cullen

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Original content from the Irish Independent newspaper at

Sheen may make film of Irish priest hero of Asian apocalypse



HOLLYWOOD actor Martin Sheen told an Irish human rights campaigner: "Use me any way you can" when the two met in the Philippines.

Now Sheen, who is currently studying in Galway University, may make a film based on the Irish priest's life.

"Father Shay Cullen truly is a hero. I would be honoured to portray him in a movie. Thank God for Fr Shay, he is a very powerful inspiration and has saved the lives of thousands of these poor children, and he has helped jail some of the world's most evil paedophiles. What he has achieved is nothing less than a miracle," Martin Sheen said last week.

Sheen first came across Fr Cullen's work with abused children in 1979 when he was making Apocalypse Now, a film which ran over budget and almost wrecked his physical and mental health.

"He had done part of the movie up our way, south of Manila, during the famous helicopter attack on the river scenes. But we didn't meet at that point. He was shocked with the poverty, and when they were making the film he saw and reflected deeply on the evils of war, which led to him getting very involved in the peace movement," Fr Cullen says.

When Sheen returned to the Philippines in 1991 to make a new film Shipping Bay, to Fr Shay's surprise, the actor sought him out.

"When I first met him, he was very religious and committed to human rights. During the Vietnam film [Apocalypse Now] he had a deep spiritual experience which eventually led him to him completely changing his life.

"He said to me when I met him: 'Look, use me in any way you can to help these people.' He is a very courageous man, he has been arrested 62 times for protesting against wars and lots of other issues," Fr Shay says.

Dublin-born Fr Cullen, was sent to Olongapo City in the Philippines in 1969 by his Columban Missionary Order.

The novice priest discovered the systematic abuse of thousands of women and children enslaved in sub-human conditions. The victims, some of whom were as young as nine years old, were enslaved in a sex industry that catered for the local US military bases and international sex tourists. Elsewhere, he found six-year-olds in prisons and malnourished, mistreated child workers in industrial mills. He also encountered chronic levels of drug addiction.

Shocked and angered, he set out to free the children and women from their dehumanising conditions and founded the People's Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation.

He later led a campaign to close down the US military bases and ensure that child-protection laws were passed in the Philippine parliament.

Along the way, he encountered ferocious opposition from both organised crime and a corrupt political elite, which resulted in an attempt on his life.

He recalls his first meeting with Martin Sheen, which took place in the notorious Payatas garbage dump - home to thousands of locals. Cullen describes the place as a smouldering toxic wasteland, with most of the population stricken with sickness, lung diseases and asthma.

Sheen paid for special shelters and washing facilities to bring some comfort to the stricken people. He would later learn about the horrific levels of child prostitution.

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what was happening to those poor kids. Children treated like contraband, sexually abused and simply thrown away. There is no-one more deserving of a Nobel Prize than Fr Shay, I can personally vouch for that," adds Martin Sheen.

Fr Shay says: "Martin showed only compassion and caring, not revulsion at the nauseating stench that clung to our hair and clothes. The people were covered with the filth and the smell, the dirt and dust of the garbage. To the world they were untouchables and lepers, but to Martin they were just people," Fr Cullen says.

Sheen, star of the West Wing TV series, in which he portrays a liberal democratic US President, is in private life a down-to-earth individual.

When the star was offered a limo and private plane to take him to Dublin for last night's Tubridy Show on RTE1, he refused and took public transport instead - much to the surprise of commuters on the overcrowded train.





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