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Father Mychal
Judge remembered in Saint of 9/11

Father Mychal
Judge remembered in Saint of 9/11

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.

Glenn Holsten's 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 rights group.

Critic Andrew 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 with him."

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.

"He touched 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.

The Roman 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 Leong, Reuters)

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