When Charlie Sheen had his drugs-and-alcohol-fueled meltdown earlier this year, his father could relate. Martin Sheen had battled his own demons as a younger man, as booze and anger issues nearly cost him his family—and his life. In 1976, at just 36 years old, he had a heart attack while filming Apocalypse Now; a priest even began delivering last rites before Sheen unexpectedly recovered.

The elder Sheen eventually overcame his alcoholism—but he still attends AA meetings—and returned to his Catholic roots. Sheen, who celebrates his 50th anniversary with wife Janet this year, tells CT that his faith, and his own life experience, enable him to extend grace and patience to his struggling son.

"Charlie is going through a very difficult period," the elder Sheen says. "People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are generally seeking a transcendent experience. But it's like [AA's] 12-step program teaches: You have to surrender to a higher power—I happen to believe that's God—and ask for help, and then begin the reconstruction work on yourself. And that's a deeply spiritual work."

While Charlie walks his own difficult road, Martin has been literally walking another: El Camino de Santiago, otherwise known as The Way of Saint James, a 500-mile trail in northern Spain that serves as a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts for thousands of hikers annually. Tradition has it that the remains of the Apostle James are buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, at the end of the trail.

Sheen, 71, and his oldest son, Emilio Estevez, 49, have made a film about El Camino called, aptly enough, The Way (Relativity Media), opening in limited release on Friday. Estevez (who kept his given Spanish name while Martin and ...

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