The Holy See
back up

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 90,  December 2002, p. 221-224

Report of the 35th Annual Conference of IACAC*

(International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains)

Mons. Anthony Chirayath,

Official of the Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

The International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains is made up of delegates of 132 international airports, which have a religious centre open to passengers. A total of 211 chaplains work in these centres, 91 of them full time, to ensure religious and spiritual aid to passengers and airport and airline personnel. The chaplains are also available to minister to victims of air disasters. Most of the chaplains are Christian (Catholic, Anglican, Protestant). Some are Buddhist, Muslim or Jewish. In addition to reception offices, the chaplains count on 106 chapels, prayer rooms, and places of worship in airports that are members of the association. Since the 9/11 attacks, many chaplains have reported a marked increased in participation in religious services and consultations, especially in the United States. The current president of the association is the Reverend Walter Meier, Protestant chaplain at Zurich International Airport in Switzerland.

The 35th Annual Conference of IACAC was held in Paris from 16 to 20 September at the premises of FIAP (Foyer International d’Accueil de Paris) situated in the centre of the city. It was built in 1968 by the French government, which gave it to a voluntary agency to run it. It has 200 bath attached rooms and 22 meeting rooms. It is used by 60% Europeans between ages 14-18 years. 30% come from other countries to study in Paris universities. 60.000 people from 1000 organisations used it last year. 100 people are employed in it.

At the 35th Annual Conference there were 91 participants, out of which 22 were Roman Catholics. The absence of European Catholic chaplains was quite evident. Some for financial reasons, others for absence of simultaneous translations and still others for disinterest in the association did not participate. A number of new Protestant chaplains from Africa turned up at the conference. There was the problem of their accreditation from the part of their bishops as required by the statutes of the association. This is something, which the Pontifical Council too should be careful of in future. In our last seminar in Rome there were one or two suspect cases. Some of them were also asking for free registration and accommodation. One was sent away immediately as he had come without previous notice. Mgr. Jacques Noyer, Bishop of Amiens and Episcopal Promoter for the pastoral care of civil aviation, was also present at the inaugural session. Mons. Anthony Chirayath represented the Pontifical Council as Observer.

In his message which was read out at the inaugural session at UNESCO, Pope John Paul II encouraged airport chaplains "to be increasingly closer to travellers and employees”, who are more worried since the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001. The Pope asked the participants "to value the opportunities that airports can provide, working for greater solidarity among the millions of travellers who use them every day and among airport employees who spend long hours in them." The Holy Father expressed the hope that the conference "will find ways to enhance the role of airport chaplains and further promote the use of airport chapels as a service to people on the move."

Ms. Rosa Guerriero, Director for inter-cultural relations of UNESCO, opened the inaugural session at the UNESCO. She said that the role of the chaplains should be more visible so that they can play an important part in the dialogue among religions. She said that her department is trying to eradicate the conflict that has risen after the events of September 11, 2001. The UNESCO is trying to bring together men and women of good will to facilitate mutual exchange and dialogue.

Speaking on the main theme of the Conference “Airport community at the heart of an encounter between cultures and peoples”, Walter Meier, President of IACAC said that airports overcome frontiers, but they also means border controls. Without proper documents air travellers are treated as strangers. Airport chaplains work between these two aspects of the airport world. Airport is also a community of workers. With them we become part of the airport community.

The other speakers were David Messas, the Grand Rabbi of Paris and Arnold de Clermont, President of the Council of Churches of France and Pastor of the French Reformed Church. Rabbi Messas said that when one is purified of his sins, he thinks that others are impure and infidels. This is a great danger. Even the Jews in the ghettos have to open themselves to others and should be open to dialogue.

Pastor Arnold de Clermont said that at UNESCO spirituality is considered part of the cultural heritage. Airport chaplains are a positive evolution of globalisation. They are symbols of globalisation.

The keynote address was given by Mr. Jean-Pierre Golle, formerly at IMF at Washington and now Founder President of the International Fourth World Movement. He said that the globalisation is not a new phenomenon. It is a movement of opening up frontiers. Its positive aspects are: democracy, social rights, better standard of living and health. Its negative aspects are: gains not equally distributed, poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, not having access to safe drinking water. Its potential risks are: increased gap between rich and poor, demographic trends, poor countries becoming marginalized, loss of cultural identity, divergence between global problems and national concerns. Its opportunities are:  increased awareness of inequalities, opportunities for solidarity, opportunities for personal action, opportunities for new partnership. Lessons learned from globalisation are: economic growth does not necessarily eradicate poverty; inequalities are no longer acceptable; poverty is a multi-dimensional problem; need to find global solutions to global problems. What can we do as individuals? Our values and outlook on others should be that of the Good Samaritan; we should listen and understand before judging others; we should have exchanges with others. We should influence the world around us with words which help build rather than with words which destroy. We should be actors rather than spectators. Other things he said were having more solidarity within society, solidarity between countries, rich countries keeping their promises, and international organisations working with civil society.

In the afternoon of the same day, Mr. Didier Hamon, Director of Corporate Communications in Paris Airports, spoke about his job in the airports. He said that there are 70.000 workers at Paris airports. The first role of the messengers (prophets) is to communicate. In the Church it is the primary role. The Pope is a great communicator. The message should have content and a structure. It is not important what you communicate, but the impression you create. That is the basis of modern communication. You must be credible; you must be trustworthy. The major current problem in all airports is environment. The problem is noise. In moments of crisis, according to him, one should never say the whole truth, because we never know the whole truth. At the same time we must not lie. E.g. we have a list of dead people in an air crash. It is not necessary to reveal the list immediately. Data, information, knowledge, wisdom is the process. Crises change everything. Nothing will be as before again. Again crises do not change anything.

Michael Teychene, of Air France, spoke about his company. There are 60.000 people employed in France, of which 6.000 are not French. The training given to them is computer based. The airport is a global village. Air France carries every year 240.000 handicapped persons. It will be a long time before we make the airports a pleasant place to work and to use.  

The participants were divided into four groups in the afternoon of September 18 and they went to four different communities to share their life and experience. I went to the village of Roissy-en-France, where the CDG Airport is situated. Our group was composed of 25 participants and 25 representatives of the village including the Mayor, Bishop, Episcopal Vicar and others. Four dioceses surround the airport. The four dioceses have appointed a priest with the charge of the industrial mission.

Mr Jacques who is in-charge of quality of products in CDG Airport explained the faith-experience at the airport. They have formed into three voluntary groups: managers, deputy managers and workers. They meet periodically to pray together and to discuss about religion and faith. Mrs. Elaine is in-charge of all these groups. Mr. Pierre has formed a group called AIR (Association Intercultural Roissy) to teach French to foreign workers at the airport. He is doing this with the help of some volunteers. Mr. Stephen works with the CCFD, which has a project at the airport. CCFD has 14000 volunteers in France. Each year it supports 500 projects. 29 Catholic lay organisations form part of the CCFD. Ms. Henriette is working on the project for fair-trading at the airport. They help poor countries to get fair prices for their products. The association tries to educate people in this aspect. 

Fr. Claude is the parish priest in the area of the airport. There are 45000 inhabitants, most of whom are working at the airport. Two priests are taking care of 30 churches of the area. Ms. Marie is working in the airport. Being close to the chapel, she frequently visits the chapel and spends time to pray and finds great solace in doing so. Bishop Oliver De Berranger of the diocese of Saint-Denis also intervened. He is one of the bishops whose territory spreads over the airport.

The Catholic liturgy was well organised. Missalets were printed in both in English and French. I was invited to say the Mass and to preach on the first day. Most of the Catholics and some Anglicans were present at the Catholic Masses. The Protestant liturgy was almost neglected. Common prayers were said in the hall on two occasions. There was a short prayer service at the inauguration. Five participants representing five continents said prayers and five candles were lit to represent five continents. I was asked to say the prayer for Asia and to light a candle.

There were four workshops: The chaplaincy and communication, Cultural adaptation, Asylum seekers and refugees at airports and Globalisation. I attended the third group. Both Catholics and Protestants agreed that there is need for assisting them at airports, but the Catholics were of the opinion that chaplains’ primary duty is to serve the airport staff and passengers and the assistance to refugees should be given by voluntary agencies such as the Caritas. The Protestants did not agree.

 The general spirit at the conference was cordial. The next conference will take place in Melbourne in September 2003.

* Held in Paris, from 16-20 September 2002