A new documentary
film makes a case for sainthood for Mychal Judge, the
New York Fire Department chaplain who died at the World
Trade Center in the September 11 attacks. One of the
best-known victims of the attack, the Franciscan friar
chose to join his men within the North Tower rather
than remain on the sidelines. He died at age 68 after giving
last rites to a fallen firefighter.
film, The Saint of 9/11, shows Judge moving in
often-conflicting social circles: a proud Irish-American;
a recovering alcoholic helping others fight addiction; a
confidant for tough, gritty firefighters; and a
celibate gay man active in the gay community. "I
got a peek into his journey and the fine line that
Mychal walked at the time," Holsten said of his film, which
premiered at New York's Tribeca Film Festival and was
produced by the Philadelphia-based Equality Forum gay
Sullivan said at the documentary's premiere: "He became
celebrated for how he died. But there's so much more to him
than that." The film, narrated by actor Sir Ian
McKellen, was one of several September
11-related works shown during the festival, which
was founded as a way to revitalize downtown Manhattan
after the attacks and is now in its fifth year.
Over three years
Holsten pieced together footage, interviews, and Judge's
own words and writings. A tribute to the chaplain, its
original title was My Mychal before it changed
to The Saint of 9/11. "The film grew into its
title," Holsten said. "There's a spirituality I connected
The film recounts
Judge's well-known work with the homeless and those
with AIDS as well as relatives of the victims of the 1996
crash of TWA Flight 800 over the Atlantic. It also
touches on his personal struggles and "collection of
small gestures," such as giving his coat to a homeless
person, Holsten said.
people in an ordinary, consistent way," said Brendan
Fay, a longtime friend of Judge and a producer of the film.
Fay also hopes the film will quell disputes over
Judge's sexual orientation. "It puts to rest that
question," Fay said. Former New York City fire
commissioner Thomas Von Essen recounts in the film his
discussions with Judge about his homosexuality. V.
Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the
Episcopal Church, told Reuters before the premiere he
identified with Judge's struggles. "We all have closets of
one kind or another. I think the danger in any
religion is to take someone who is a leader in a faith
tradition and put him on a pedestal and somehow he is
not supposed to have any kind of a struggle," he said.
Catholic canonization process is complicated and can take
decades. Holsten said his film strives for a more personal
interpretation of what constitutes a saint. "These are
qualifications for me of sainthood: being true to
yourself and putting the people in your life before
you. I think people could wrestle with the term, but I don't
think that's a bad thing," Holsten said. (Richard
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