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Ground Zero Hero: An Instrument of Peace

7/18/2006 - 6:03 AM PST

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By Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Catholic Online

I met Fr. Mychal Judge at LaGuardia Airport in 1999. I was out of breath, sweating and irritated.

He was at peace.

It was an unusually hot day, and I was literally running to make the plane. I almost missed the flight on Ireland's finest, Aer Lingus. Fr. Mike greeted me with that gregarious manner and those smiling Irish eyes that I would soon come to cherish because they revealed the essence of this wonderful priest of God.

"Glad to finally meet you, I have heard much about you," he said. "Cool down, you have made it." With those few words he calmed my spirit and seemed to lower my body temperature at least twenty degrees.

I felt immediately comfortable in his presence. It was those smiling eyes and the presence of the God whom he served so well. Joy and peace seemed to emanate from those eyes.

We began a trip together that would forever change my view of life, the Church, the world and my own sense of a call to promote reconciliation in the Body of Christ, the Christian community and through her, to the world.

I had been invited to be a part of a mission team to Northern Ireland called "Project Reconciliation" by Dennis Lynch, a friend, a true patriot, and the Chairman of the Board of Catholic Alliance, a Catholic citizens movement I helped to found.

At the time I was serving the Presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. The mission (entirely funded by an anonymous gift from another great American whom I will now name—Steve Forbes) was a peace mission led by a contemporary hero of mine, Detective Steven McDonald.

Steven's story has been told and retold. I believe that it should be required reading for all who over the next few weeks seek to make sense out of the horrible violence that has besieged our beloved country.

A police officer with a great career ahead of him, Steven had been on duty years ago as one of New York's finest. We have all experienced the quality of New York Officers over these last weeks.

While interrupting a robbery already in progress, young Steven McDonald was shot at point blank range by a young black assailant. He, his family, and many, many others would never be the same.

Steven was rendered quadriplegic and left in a coma. During his extraordinary time of recovery, while he struggled with the understandable rage, anger and profound depression that often accompany such injury, the Lord visited with Steven and told him that forgiveness was the only path to peace.

When he was shot, Detective McDonald's beautiful wife, Patti Ann, was carrying their first child, a son, whom they would name Connor. All three of them carried someone else within their hearts, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Though faithful Catholics, they never imagined that their faith would be tested like the Saints, by the fire that came upon them on that violent day. But, like all saints and heroes, the fire itself forged them into the gold of heaven on earth.

Since the shooting, Steven has been an instrument of peace like Francis of Assisi. He proclaims to anyone who will listen from the weakest to the most powerful, that forgiveness is the only path to peace. And they do listen. Steven has visited several nations and has been given citizenship in his beloved Ireland.

When Steven speaks, you have to listen closely because he has a tracheotomy tube for breathing and has to speak in a whisper. But he doesn't really have to use words; he has eyes that radiate the peace that fills his weakened body. Just his presence with his loving wife and son by his side speaks volumes about the mystery and beauty of forgiveness and love.

He began to learn the truth of the message himself when the Lord who had visited his bed asked him to first forgive the young man who had shot him. He did so out of obedience at first, but he found a joy unspeakable—an enemy became a friend. Since that day, Steven has been a peacemaker and has experienced the blessing promised to those who accept the invitation.

The whole McDonald family reached out to this young man and he became a friend of the family—until he himself was taken by a senseless act of street violence.

So they continue their campaign for peace through forgiveness, traversing the globe with missionary zeal. They, like others who have trodden this path, have gathered friends around them.

One of those friends was Fr. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest who was the Chaplain to the Fire and Police Departments. Then Cardinal O'Connor (of blessed memory) was so moved by Steven's mission, that he asked Fr. Mychal to provide ongoing priestly care to this modern day missionary.

They were, as my dear mother says, "two peas in a pod" Steven and "Fr. Mike." Two Irish men with smiling ...

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