Reverend Mychal Judge was a Franciscan priest and a New York Fire Fighter. He served at Saint Francis Church in Manhattan, New York, USA. At the age of 68 he responded to the alert as he had countless times before, and was on the scene of the World Trade Center the morning of September 11th, 2001. Moments after he arrived upon the scene, one of his brother fire fighters had taken a fatal blow. Father Mike kneeled beside the man, took off his own helmet in respect, and began performing last rites. This is something Father Mike was duty-bound to do, but moreover he was compelled by his beliefs and his great courage to go where angels feared to tread. Not only was he a servant of God, but Father Mike was a servant of God's people. He was, is, and will always be remembered as a hero. The following was written in honor of him and all children of God who serve God's people.
New Arrivals: A Short Story
"Sorry about this, sir."
He looked up and saw a man in a Fireman's uniform, offering his hand. The face was not familiar, and Michael had made it a habit in his life to never forget a face.
"Sorry about what?" He looked around. He was no longer kneeling at the foot of the building which was just attacked. In fact it looked like a nondescript hallway. Blue and white walls. The smell and the screams were gone now, replaced with.. ammonia? Is this a hospital, he asked himself? Michael looked back up into the face of the man who was helping him to his feet, and was surprised to realize he was no longer wearing his fireman's uniform. Michael was in his franciscan uniform: a simple brown robe.
"Well sir, you took off your helmet when the debris fell. You did so to pay respects, but it's just as well. We're going to need your help here."
Michael responded with a firm but resolute expression on his face. He remembered the pain to the back of his head and he blacked out. Now he knew where he must be. He looked around, "I must admit I didn't expect it to look like this."
"We try to minimize the effect of the transition for people as best as we can. This is similar to a place where you've often found yourself I'm sure."
Michael affirmed with a simple nod. It was one of the hospitals where he'd often counselled families, paid the last respects to his brother fire fighters, and even helped some lucky fireman back to health with humor, compassion and sharing God's grace.
The fireman paused, then continued, "Things will become quite different for you soon, but-"
"Oh, yes yes. I-I understand." Michael didn't fully, but well enough. "How can I help?"
"Well, pretty soon we'll need you to help us break the news to over four thousand new arrivals. They're going to be a little scared. Your expertise will help us help them."
"I'm eager to assist."
"I know Mike. And the boss has asked me to thank you on his behalf for your endless dedication and love for your fellow man. And he'll thank you in person himself soon enough. However, first there's one individual in that room back there," the gentleman in the fireman's outfit motioned to a blue door directly behind him, "who may need your help even more. He can't stay here. The others who were with him have already left for uhm.. in the basement..?"
"...but sir, this one gentleman is a very special case. Here's his file."
The fireman handed Michael a simple manilla folder. He was relatively familiar with these. They were similar to the filing system people in the fire departments and police departments used. He'd handled them before. Michael opened the file and began scanning it. "Muhammed?"
"He was one of the men responsible for this."
Michael gave the fireman a cold hard look of surprise and shock. Then the expression mellowed into one of curious understanding; perhaps even a whimical rolling of the eyes to the absurdities of the universe. Michael flipped through a few pages, "Care to give me the short version, son?"
The fireman smiled, "Of course, sir. Muhammed was scheduled to go downstairs with the others, but there's a little crinkle."
Michael saw it. Five pages into the folder, there was a list of names. "People had been praying for him."
"Yes. It would be hard for some to understand, but the boss knows personally that you've sent us a few manilla folders like this one in the past."
Michael laughed, "That I have! Prayer IS a very powerful thing."
"That is is. So the boss figured you'd probably understand this better than anyone. Now, please understand sir. We can't do much about it because Muhammed still insists that our boss directed him to do this horrible thing to all these people. He's not willing or able to see the cost of his deeds. He's still expecting paradise, but our laws are very specific. You can't get in here riding on the blood of others."
"But even though he pushed these people away, compassionate people he's met throughout his life who have prayed for him... We have to give him one last chance."
The hallway was solemn and silent, save for the occasional flipping of pages in Michael's hand. He seemed to be looking for something, and the fireman found himself trying to read Michael's face, but he was unable. A compassionate and honest face. The man in the fireman's uniform could see why so many said such wonderfully good things about this simple but great man. "..Do you think you can do it?"
Michael nodded, "Oh of course. He's in there?" Michael turned around to face the simple blue door. He seemed prepared for this with the same courage and selflessness from which he approached most everything in his life.
"Yes sir," The fireman said. "And I'd just like to say sir it's an honor to meet you. There's a lot of us up here who have been amazed by your courage and dedication for a very long time."
Michael looked down at the dossier again of Muhammed, reading diligently, and gave a humble nod, "thank you. Just give me a few more minutes to read this and.." he leaned a shoulder against the wall.
"Of course sir. Would you like a chair?"
"oh? No that won't be necessary. Just a few moments alone and I'll be ready."
"Thank you sir." The fireman stepped back with humility and then turned to go. He walked down the hallway then turned back around. "And sir? If you need backup just give a holler. We'll be right there."
Michael turned back to face the fireman and spoke low and evenly to him, just enough to be heard. With a quizzical smile on his face, "Oh I thank you but.. I won't need any other backup for this one. Thank you."
"No. Thank you sir."
Michael was then left alone. He read the rest of the dossier, solemnly closed it, took a deep breath, and reached for the doorknob, "who knows? we might even get lucky and save us another one, eh Lord?"
"I've got your back Mike," came a whispered reply.
Written in honor and memory
Rev. Mychal Judge, 68
St. Francis Church, midtown Manhattan