Monday, September 11, 2006

Saint of 9/11

Tonight I saw Saint of 9/11, a documentary about FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge.

I attended a special screening made up of movie club members and guests from our own Seattle PD. I'm convinced it was the best possible way I could've spent the 5th anniversary of the attack on our country. 'Anniversary' is the wrong word, but I'm at a loss for a good synonym on this somber night.

The mood was quiet before the movie began. It might have been my imagination, but I'll swear people were more polite as they were searching for seats and settling in. The SIFF representative welcomed the audience, said a few words (folks clapped for our guests from the PD) and the lights went down. Not one peep of noise was heard for the next 95 minutes.

Father Mychal Judge was an Irish boy that grew up in New York. His father died at a young age and he and his two sisters were raised by his mother. He was always a life-loving, kind, sweet soul.

At a young age, he knew his calling was to serve God, so he began religious studies in the Franciscan order. After he became a priest, he struggled with alcoholism and his sexual orientation.

He remained a closeted homosexual out of respect for the church that he so loved, but trusted his close friends and associates with the truth. Over time, he became more open about his sexuality because he realized it humanized him in the eyes of the people.

Anecodotes and stories about his life were provided by friends, churchgoers, firefighters, politicians, priests, nuns and street people. Gay and straight, black and white. All of them mentioned his kind spirit, his sense of humor and his compassion for the poor.

An AIDS activist remembered how sad it was when the virus was still an unknown killer in the early 80s. Victims of it were isolated by friends and family in their final days for fear of spreading or catching it. Father Judge visited all of them, without protective masks or gloves and even kissed them and massaged their feet. He administered the Last Rites to dying homosexuals and spoke at their funerals with tenderness and pride for their accomplishments in life.

He was a loyal member of Alcoholics Anonymous and was 23 years sober when he was laid to rest.

He counseled families for months following the airplane crash of flight 800.

He worshiped with the gay Catholic group 'Dignity.'

He acquired winter coats for the homeless each year by persuading shop owners to give him discounts or not charge him at all, and delivered them in his official FDNY vehicle.

This hero was the first recorded death in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Footage of his September 10, 2001 sermon is played throughout the film and prior readings are told by narrator Ian McKellan.

Father Judge spoke of God's Kingdom of Heaven becoming bright with beautiful souls after devastating tragedies that capture many good lives all at once.

I can think of no one more deserving for the title of Saint than Father Mychal Judge.

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