A saint for everybody

Franciscan Fr. Chris Keenan, chaplain for the New York Fire Department, reads the last homily from Franciscan Fr. Mychal Judge during the Walk of Remembrance in New York City Sept. 11 this year. (CNS/Octavio Duran)

People have called Franciscan Fr. Mychal Judge a saint since he died at the World Trade Center ministering to victims and first responders on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, Pope Francis' announcement of a new pathway to canonization has given some hope that Judge will be officially recognized by the Catholic Church.

"He would make a good saint," said Kevin Grace, a retired New York City firefighter. "And he was a saint for everybody."

While some, like Grace, knew Judge through his work as a chaplain for the New York Fire Department, others knew him through his service to the homeless, his parish ministry, his interfaith discussions, his involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous, his work with paralyzed gun-violence victim Steven McDonald promoting forgiveness, his friendship with high-profile politicians, or his ministry to AIDS victims who were ostracized by most of the church.

Judge was equally comfortable talking to a homeless person, a wealthy Manhattan society lady, a gay man or a "macho blue-collar firefighter," said Sal Sapienza, who worked with Judge at St. Francis AIDS Ministry, which Judge founded at his Manhattan parish. "He met them where they were and they in turn felt like he was theirs. I've never really met someone who was able to be that for all these different types of people."

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which is helping collect information about Judge for a possible canonization cause, said the Franciscan exemplified outreach to those on the margins.

"He was doing the work that Pope Francis is now calling the rest of the church to do, to accompany people, to accept them where they are, to not be judgmental," DeBernardo said. "And then there's the fact that he offered his life for the sake of ministering to people. He ran into the tower when other people were running out."

A version of this story appeared in the Oct 20-Nov 2, 2017 print issue.

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