911 – Thoughts from John Thurman

Darkness is settling into Albuquerque a little early tonight as a gentle, but rumbling thunderstorm cools the evening.

All day today on television, radio, and social media have been several moving remembrances that morning on 9/11 that permanently altered out history as Americans.

Even then, as a recently retired Army Reserve Chaplain, I wondered if I would play any part in the recovery efforts. A few weeks later, a representative from the U.S. Army’s Chaplain office did reach out and said there might be a call-up. Even as a retiree, the government can bring you back on active duty. But that wasn’t to be.

Instead, I would stay in Albuquerque and be an ordinary citizen, or so I thought. Over the days and weeks ahead, my counseling practiced picked up as I helped rescue and recovery workers who were coming back to New Mexico. I also did some telephonic work with some of the family members of those who were lost. So in my on, quiet way, I was able to use my gifts and skills to help people who were impacted.

I have a trivia question for you. Do you know the name of the first person who was officially listed at Victim #0001 in the Twin Towers?

His name is Fr. Mychal Judge, Chaplain of the New York Fire Department. This above photos is one of the most powerful from that awful day.

Because of my ministry as an Army Chaplain, I felt a connection with him. After serving 22 years as an Army Chaplain, I have working with other chaplains from nearly every religious group from Hassidic Jews, Later-Day-Saints, Orthodox, Assembly of God, Independent Baptist, United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and others that I cannot recall. One of the things that sets most chaplains, whether military or other, is that we have a call to work in places most pastors don’t feel a call to. And in all of my years of service, we were able to maintain our unique ecclesiastic differences while taking care of the spiritual needs of those we served.

Back to Chaplain Judge.

He was the first official victim of the September 11 attacks and a candidate for canonisation. Now Father Mychal Judge, chaplain of the New York Fire Department, has emerged as an unlikely gay icon a year after his death.

When his body was carried out of the burning towers, Father Mychal, 68, seemed to epitomize the human face of a tragedy beyond comprehension. Because he was a priest, his death set an example of courage and selflessness that helped to fill the hole the terrorists had gouged in the city’s heart.On September 11, 2001, upon learning that the World Trade Center had been hit by the first of two jetliners, Judge rushed to the site. He was met by Rudolph Giuliani, the Mayor of New York City, who asked him to pray for the city and its victims. Judge prayed over some bodies lying on the streets, then entered the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower, where an emergency command post had been organized. There he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured, and the dead.

When the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 am, debris went flying through the North Tower lobby, killing many insides, including Judge. At the moment he was struck in the head and killed, Judge was repeatedly praying aloud, “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”, according to Judge’s biographer and New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly.

Shortly after his death, an NYPD lieutenant found Judge’s body. He and two firemen, an FDNY emergency medical technician, detailed to the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and one civilian bystander then carried Judge’s body out of the North Tower. This event was captured in the documentary film 9/11, shot by Jules and Gedeon Naudet. Shannon Stapleton, a photographer from Reuters, photographed Judge’s body being carried out of the rubble by the five men.[18] It became one of the most famous images related to 9/11. The Philadelphia Weekly reported that the photograph is “considered an American Pietà.” Judge’s body was laid before the altar of St. Peter’s Catholic Church before being taken to the medical examiner.

Mychal Judge was designated as “Victim 0001” and thereby recognized as the first official victim of the attacks. Although others had been killed before him, including the crews, passengers, and hijackers of the first three planes, and occupants of the towers and the Pentagon, Judge was the first certified fatality because his was the first body to be recovered and taken to the medical examiner.

He like us was not a perfect person. A recovering alcoholic, a benefactor to the homeless, and mentor to New York’s firefighters, Father Mychal meant many things to many people. What was less well known, according to some of his friends, was that Father Mychal Judge was also gay. Malachy McCourt, an author who met Father Mychal at Alcoholics Anonymous, says the priest swore without compunction. ”He’d always say ‘You’re not a bad person – you have a disease that makes you think you’re a bad person.”

Under the circumstances, Father Mychal was a great fit for New York’s firefighters. ”He would enjoy the one-upmanship,” says Father Cassian. ”They would be razzing him, and he’d razz them back.

”He loved being in the firehouse with them, just for the camaraderie and the fellowship. He was always at the center of things with his Irish personality. ’’Those, like Father Cassian, who know him best, say Father Mychal would not have wanted his death any other way. The firefighters who found him carried his body out of the building and to a church where they laid him by the altar and, in the absence of priests, administered last rites themselves. Moments later, tower one collapsed, and the city slowly began counting its dead.
Sometimes legends are made, and sometimes they are born. The legend of Father Mychal Judge is a bit of both. It originated amid humble beginnings and ended with the death of a saint.
It is no accident, people say, that his death certificate lists him as victim 0001: if someone had to lead the firefighters to God, it was always going to be Father Mychal.
While he, like you and I was not perfect, one the worst day in recent American history he was there ministering to his flock.
May we never forget. Would like to hear from you so leave a comment if you like.

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