The Holy See
back up

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

IV European Seminar for Catholic Airport Chaplains

Lyon (France), 13 May 2003

Opening Address

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

Secretary Pontifical Council for the 

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People 

Dear Airport Chaplains, Chaplaincy Members and Distinguished Guests,

It is a great honour for me to open this Fourth European Seminar for Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members here in Lyon, in the Diocesan Centre “Maison Saint-Joseph” and to welcome the participants - both airport Chaplains and their collaborators - as well as the distinguished guests, in the name of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, especially on behalf of its President Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, who is unable to be present here today.  

This European Seminar, fourth in the series, after Warsaw, Budapest and Brussels, is organised jointly by our Pontifical Council, the European Catholic Airport Chaplains’ Secretariat and the Catholic Chaplaincy at Lyon-Satolas Airport. 

Rev. Dr. Slawomir Kawecki, Airport Chaplain at Warsaw International Airport, is the dynamic Secretary of the European Secretariat. He is the second Secretary to occupy the post of serving the association of European Catholic Airport Chaplaincies. The first Secretary, most of you will remember, was Fr. Declan Doyle from Dublin International Airport. Fr. Kawecki has been working very hard to promote this ministry, especially in East European countries, flying from one airport to another, meeting airport Authorities and dialoguing with the local Bishops. The result is evident. We have several new airport chapels and new airport Chaplains, some of whom are present here with us at this Seminar. On behalf of all of you and on my own, I want to welcome each and every one of them wholeheartedly. Fr. Kawecki also sends newsletters to all Chaplains keeping them connected and informed of the airport ministry. I must add here that he has not made our life easier in the Pontifical Council either. Since he is pushing us to serve better the aviation ministry, I thank him and take this occasion to express our deep gratitude to Fr. Kawecki for all that he did and is doing for the apostolate of civil aviation in Europe. A challenging ministry, indeed.

The latest good news about the progress of the aviation ministry in Europe is that Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague has informed the Pontifical Council that space for an airport chapel has been assigned to him in Prague, and that he has found a French priest to minister as Chaplain. He also promised to send him to this Seminar. (I do not know whether he has arrived!). We also wrote to Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Warsaw on the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the airport chapel and expressed our deep appreciation for the progress of the airport ministry, not only in Warsaw but also in four other Polish airports. Cardinal Glemp was very pleased with our letter.

There is no need to welcome another important person, because he, together with his team members, is the host of this Seminar – Fr. Jean Battesti. I want to tell all of them how grateful we are for their gracious hospitality. Fr. Battesti, together with Fr. Kawecki, paid at least two visits to our Pontifical Council to discuss the preparations of this Seminar, and he has been corresponding a lot and working very hard to organise this Seminar. I am fully aware that lot of work has gone into its preparation. He has prepared a very good programme - pastoral, intellectual and social, which we are going to share, listen and enjoy.  

Even if there is no “alteritas” with me, I must thank our/your Sector in the Pontifical Council, that is Msgr. Anthony Chirayath and Sr. Alessandra Pander, “in absentia”. They also worked hard for the success of this meeting. 

The general theme chosen for this Seminar, "Unity in Diversity - Challenges for the Pastoral Care of Civil Aviation”, is very relevant today. Airport Chaplains operate in a difficult and very complex environment, where there is an encounter, a melting pot of all races, cultures and religions, and they are especially concerned with the pastoral care of air crew members, including those in training, ground personnel, mechanics and technicians, employees and executives, airport staff and service workers, workers in airport-based services catering to airline and passenger needs. Their attention is directed also to passengers and to special categories like refugees in airport detention centres, stranded people, and their like. In this complex situation, the Chaplains have to be a point of “unity in diversity” for all the categories of people. I will be speaking about this subject tomorrow morning. 

We are treading on the land of great saints, like St. Irenaeus and the Curé d’Ars. We will have the opportunity in the coming days of visiting the holy places related to their saintly and heroic lives and to appreciate to their spiritualities. St. Irenaeus was one of the greatest theologians of the second century, coming from the East. In his youth he was strongly influenced by St. Polycarp, whose teachings he treasured “not on paper but in my heart, for the things we learnt in childhood are part of our soul”. Similarly, St. John Vianney was an important figure in France and beyond its borders, famous for his preaching and tremendous influence he exercised on his listeners. He was a holy priest, to whom thousands of people came. It is said that he spent eighteen hours a day in the confessional. He is thus a model for all priests, especially the diocesan ones. I am sure he is a good example also for the airport Chaplains. 

Tomorrow morning, Rev. Maurice Jourjon, Patristic scholar, will enlighten us on the relevance of St. Irenaeus, and on Wednesday, Rev. Dr. Pierre Lathuiliere, of the Theological Faculty of Lyon and Head of the Department of Ecumenism, will talk to us on “The Ecumenical Dimension of the Pastoral Care of Civil Aviation: Ecumenical Charter signed on April 22, 2002”. On the same day, the Rt. Rev. Guy Bagnard, Bishop of Belley-Ars, will speak to us about the spirituality of St. John Vianney. 

On Thursday, the Most Rev. Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, has kindly consented to speak on the “Challenges and Opportunities for the Church in Europe”, while it will be the task of Prof. Michel Boursier, of the Catholic Faculty of Lyon, to bring us up to date about the “Prospects for the future of Europe”. So in the coming days, we will have much to hear, to reflect on, to see and to share. 

We entrust our Seminar to the protection of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, recalling also Our Lady of Loreto as the heavenly Patroness of Civil Aviation. I wish the Seminar every success and God’s abundant blessings. Thank you!