May 8, 2006
New documentary makes case for “The Saint of 9/11″
By Richard Leong
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new documentary film makes a case
for sainthood for Mychal Judge, a New York Fire Department
chaplain who died at the World Trade Center in the September 11
soil, the Franciscan friar chose to join his men within the
North Tower rather than remaining on the sidelines and 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 homosexual 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 McKellan, was one of
several September 11-related works shown during the festival,
founded as a way to revitalize downtown Manhattan after the
attacks and now in its fifth year.
Over three years, Holsten pieced together footage,
interviews and Judge's own words and writing. 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 long-time friend of Judge's and a producer of
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
Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal
Church, told Reuters before the premiere he identified with
"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.