Roger E. Joseph Prize Awarded posthumously to Father Mychal Judge and The City of New York Fire Department May 12, 2002 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Roger E. Joseph Prize Awarded posthumously to Father Mychal Judge and The City of New York Fire Department May 12, 2002

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Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Investiture and Ordination Ceremonies
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York

Accepted by Daniel A. Nigro
Chief of Department, The City of New York Fire Department

It is indeed an honor to be here this morning at this wonderful Ordination Ceremony accepting, on behalf of Father Mychal Judge and the New York City Fire Department, the prestigious Roger E. Joseph Prize. Father Judge would be most pleased to be in the company of Victor Kugler, Raoul Wallenberg, Rosa Parks, and the many other distinguished winners of this award. He was quite an individual. I cannot help but think that only Mychal Judge could get the Lutheran Chief of Department to the Synagogue on Sunday morning to honor a Franciscan! And somehow it feels completely right and natural.

I must say though that this is not the first time that I ve been here. When I was about 12 years old, a very wise pastor who at that time served at my church took a group of us to three of New York s finest houses of worship: St. Patrick s Cathedral, Temple Emmanuel and Riverside Church. He did this, I later realized, to show us, as one of our Fire Chaplains, Rabbi Joseph Potasnick, tells us often, that we are more alike than different. Three beautiful hymns of praise built by men of three faiths to the glory of their one God. And just as one can feel comfortable in the house of a friend and neighbor, I feel comfortable in your house, or should I say in the house of our God.

In February I received a letter from Rabbi Ellenson that began: "I am most honored to inform you that the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion wishes to recognize Chaplain Mychal Judge, posthumously, with the awarding of the 2002 Roger E. Joseph Prize for his singular courage in carrying out his ministry in a manner unprecedented in its breadth and diversity." My compliments to Rabbi Ellenson, the Joseph family, and to anyone else responsible for the selection. You certainly understand Father Judge s ministry. He was a man of inclusion not exclusion whose congregation extended beyond St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street, and beyond the New York City Fire Department. His pastoral care was extended to many in our society who sometimes feel not only left out but also actually prohibited from sharing in the life-giving grace of religious partnership and affiliation. All who were touched by Father Judge s magic were made to feel special, were made to feel worthy, and were made to feel as if they also belonged.

We are here today because Father Mychal Judge acted on his beliefs. Ministry is Service and Service involves action not just thinking. Had Mychal simply thought that God loved us all, had he simply thought that a personal relationship with God could help everyone, he would still be remembered as a nice man, but we would be honoring another today. He thought and then he acted, unafraid of offending some, when and where his heart and his faith directed him. The expression "Actions speak louder than words" is simple but profound. Every society and every generation has recognized the wisdom contained in that expression and created variations, such as: "Don t talk the talk if you can t walk the walk." Well Mychal certainly walked the walk.

On the Morning of September 11th, when he was told of the tragedy in progress, he, without hesitation, rushed to the scene and rushed into the lobby of the North Tower. He knew that the firefighters entering would need the comfort of his presence. He could have instead stayed at St. Francis Church and prayed long and hard for the safety of the firefighters that he served, but, as, much as he believed in the power of prayer, I don t think he ever considered that option. A man of action, a man who needed to be close to those he served, needed to be there.

When I was young I had difficulty with the premise that evil physically existed. That it could be a person or thing (the devil?) or a place (hell?). Evil was merely an idea, a condition, the opposite of good, I mistakenly thought. On the morning of September 11th, just as it had done so many other times in our past, just as it had done more than 60 years ago when Victor Kugler and Raoul Wallenberg bravely faced it, evil put on the clothes on men and appeared in our midst. On September 11th, evil stepped onto those airliners and evil physically flew them at a speed of almost 600 MPH into the Twin Towers. Not the idea of evil, not something in our imaginations, but real evil that all of our senses responded to and recoiled from.

This real, physical evil that murdered innocents on September 11th, that continues to murder the innocent with suicide bombers cannot be met and cannot be defeated by our hopes, our desires or even by the best of our prayers. The physical presence of evil must be met by the physical presence of good. Father Judge understood these things on that terrible morning. He acted as he had throughout his life, ministering without fear. He served our firefighters that morning as he served all of his constituencies with great love, with great compassion and as a man of God.

As a representative of the New York City Fire Department and as a personal friend of Father Mike, I thank all of you for this award. He truly earned it.

Read Father Christopher Keenan's Acceptance Speech.

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