Two months before the attack on the World Trade Center, the Catholic chaplain of the New York City Fire Department Father Mychal Judge confessed to a friend and fellow priest Father Chris Keenan that he had a creeping feeling his time on Earth would soon come to an end.
And sadly, he was right.
Along with his firefighter colleagues, shortly after the first plane hit the North Tower on Sept. 11, 68-year-old Judge ran to the building to help in any way he could by either evacuating workers from the crumbling building, offering comfort to the injured, or praying for the dead.
In his last moments, Judge did something typical of any priest, and prayed the rosary while walking the tower’s lobby, according to footage caught by a pair of French filmmakers, the brothers Jules and Gédéon Naudet, who happened to be at the World Trade Center that day working on a documentary about a rookie firefighter.
In the middle of praying, Judge was struck in the head by falling debris, collapsed in the lobby, and became the first victim of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. In the twenties years that have passed since the attack, his life and death have been honored in a number of ways with some Catholics urging for his sainthood as a way of exalting his legacy. A group of musicians started performing together every year to commemorate Judge’s life and a handful of friends and acquaintances organized a walk in his honor.
That walk, dubbed The Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance, has taken place every Sunday before Sept. 11 for the last 19 years to honor the beloved Franciscan priest.
“To know him was to love him,” said John Bates, the main organizer for the walk of remembrance. “You only had to meet him once or twice to feel like he had been your parish priest for 30 years.” Bates met Judge through a mutual acquaintance, the NYPD’s Detective Steven McDonald, and got involved with organizing the walk shortly after it started.
In its first year, about 35 people participated in the walk which always begins after a Catholic mass at 8 a.m. at St. Francis of Assis Church on 31 St. in Manhattan. Judge lived in the church’s neighboring friary from 1986 until his death.
In the following years, the number of participants steadily grew with Bates expecting to see about 1,000 firefighters, police officers, and Port Authority workers this year.
“A lot of people, I’m hoping, will come to the walk to really just show their support, not just for the heroes of 9/11 but for those heroes that are serving in the FDNY, NYPD, and Port Authority police today.”