Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move
N° 94, April 2004
“The Spiritual Heart of the Airport”
(results of an inquiry)
Rev. Sr. Halina Urszula PANDER
Official of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care
of Migrants and Itinerant People
Conclusions of Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO
The Fourth European Seminar for Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members was held in Lyons in France from 12th to 16th May 2003. Its theme was «Unity in Diversity» - Challenges for the Pastoral Care of Civil Aviation. The meeting was organized by the European Secretariat of Catholic Airport Chaplains under the auspices and with the practical help of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. The participants numbered 27 and came from 20 international airports in Europe.
The Secretary of the Pontifical Council, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, gave the principal talk dealing with the Challenges for the Pastoral Care in Civil Aviation, in which he reviewed certain aspects of the present situation of Catholic chaplaincies. He stressed in particular the necessity to make the presence of an airport chapel “visible”, emphasizing the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist for the life of the airport community. Then, taking up the thought expressed by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Archbishop Marchetto urged the chaplains to do everything in their power to ensure that the Eucharist was reserved in their chapels for the adoration of the faithful.
The result of the Archbishop’s talk and the dialogue that followed was a decision that it would be opportune to hold an inquiry with Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains all over the world regarding airport chapels, with particular reference to the celebrations held in them and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. The Pontifical Council took on the task of carrying out the inquiry.
I. The situation and the procedure adopted
1. The overall picture
There are in the world 90 Catholic chaplaincies located in the main international airports. In some of them, especially in the United States and Canada, there is more than one chaplain (priest or permanent deacon) in the airport. This means that the number of chaplains engaged in pastoral care in civil aviation with whom the Pontifical Council is in constant contact amounts to 117.
In Europe they are organized by the European Secretariat of Catholic Chaplains in Civil Aviation, whose secretary general is the Rev. Slawomir Kawecki, the chaplain at Warsaw airport. Chaplains in the USA are united in the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains under the particular care of the Rev. John Jamnicky, while in Italy, owing to the large number of international airports (eight), the Episcopal Commission for Migrations has appointed the Rev. Giacomo Martino as National Director for Civil Aviation.
2. The addressees of the inquiry
The Pontifical Council sent its questionnaire direct to all airport chaplains in Africa, Asia, South and Central America. Chaplains in European countries, in Italy and in the United States of America were approached instead through those responsible in the coordinating offices concerned, that is by Rev. Slawomir Kawecki, Rev. Giacomo Martino and Rev. John Jamnicky respectively.
Assuming that the inquiry reached all those to whom it was addressed, 117 chaplains in 90 international airports were therefore contacted: 6 in Africa, 64 in the Americas, 9 in Asia and 38 in Europe.
3. The purpose and contents of the inquiry
The purpose of the inquiry was to collect information on the location of chapels in airports, their “nature”, the frequency with which the Eucharist is celebrated in them and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.
The aim of all this was in the first instance to learn how things stood and then to see how best to help airport chaplains to undertake wherever possible the necessary steps to make the airport chapel more “visible” and accessible both to the airport personnel and to passengers, the final goal being more and more regular celebrations of the liturgy.
The experience of some chaplains and the solutions found in various countries can in fact act as an inspiration to others.
These are the questions the chaplains were asked:
II. The results of the inquiry
We will give the results in an order that is slightly different from that in which the questions were asked. This will illustrate more clearly the number of chapels and their “nature”, followed by a description of their locality in the airport. Then comes the question of the frequency of Mass and finally the reservation of the Sacrament.
The answers received so far give information on 36 airports, 16 of them in Europe, 2 in Asia and 18 in the United States.
Answers from European countries were given by the chaplains themselves; their names are given here in brackets:
The following two answers have been received from the Asian continent:
As regards the United States of America, Fr John Jamnicky felt it better to answer the questionnaire himself with a summary of results concerning 14 airports. Seven airport chaplains answered our questions personally, but 3 of their answers were already included in Fr. Jamnicky’s summary. All in all, therefore, we have received information on 18 US airports, listed here in alphabetic order:
Boston Logan (Fr Richard B. Uftring), Charlotte/Dougles (Deacon Gerald Hickey), Chicago O’Hare (Fr Michael Zaniolo), Chicago Midway (Fr George P. McKenna), Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (Deacon Richard O’Donnel), Cleveland Hopkins (Deacon Ben W. Wenning), Dallas/Fort Worth (Fr Vincent Inametti, Deacon Edward Scarbrough), Dulles and Washington DC (Fr Richard Farmer, op), Hartsfield Atlanta (Deacon Michael Landaiche), Indianapolis (Fr Glenn O’Connor), Miami (Deacon Denis E. Jordan), Newark Liberty (Fr David J. Baratelli), New York JFK (Fr James T. Devine), Phoenix Sky Harbor (Deacon Edward L. Botton), Pittsburgh (Fr John Fitzgerald), Seattle-Tacoma (Fr Anthony Haycock) and Lambert St Louis (Fr John Rouff).
As can be seen from the above lists, the majority of airports are served by a priest (26), while in others the chaplain’s work is performed by a permanent deacon (10), which is the marked prevalence in the USA. Then there are airports without a chaplain (Katowice in Poland) and others like Pulkovo (St Petersburg, Russia) where a priest is available for this work but there is no chapel. At Stuttgart Airport in Germany, too, the chaplain’s duties are performed by a permanent deacon. He has informed us that a new terminal will be opened in March this year with an inter-religious chapel that will be entrusted, however, to the Catholics. The Blessed Sacrament will be reserved there in a tabernacle, but unfortunately Holy Mass will only be celebrated occasionally.
1. The Chapel, its numbers and its “nature”
The Holy Father Pope John Paul II has defined the chapel as “the spiritual heart of the airport, where Christ speaks to persons intimately, in silence”. As the heartbeat is vital for a living organism, the Chapel should be considered a vital and indispensable part of an airport. Canon law defines it as a sacred place “meant for the celebration of divine worship, where the faithful have right of entry to practice such worship above all publicly.
But not all airports have a chapel. Our inquiry revealed that in 36 airports there are altogether 40 chapels. Breaking down this figure we find that in 30 airports there is only one chapel, in three there are two, and one airport alone has four, while two airports have no chapel. In one case the conference room is used for liturgical celebrations. The following table gives a summary of the situation.
As can be seen in twelve airports, the chapels are Catholic, in six ecumenical, and in the other sixteen inter-religious.
In the United States only three of the eighteen airports reviewed have a Catholic chapel, the other fifteen being inter-religious. The Dallas/Port Worth airport even has four chapels, all of them inter-religious and situated in the airport’s four terminals (A, B, C, E).
In Europe we find a different situation. In Dublin airport, in Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport and in five Polish airports the chapels are Catholic, while the two chapels in Paris Roissy CDG are ecumenical and form part of two “Spiritual Centres”, each of which also houses a mosque and a synagogue. Madrid-Barajas in Spain has two Catholic chapels and the chaplain has obtained the agreement of the airport authorities that a third chapel now planned will also be Catholic. In his reply the chaplain stated, however, that the airport also has an interdenominational chapel and a mosque.
There are also two Catholic chapels in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at Manila in the Philippines.
The situation at London’s Heathrow Airport should be noted: the chapel there is ecumenical but contains a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament. Similar cases are to be found in the ecumenical chapels at Paris Roissy-CDG and St Louis Lambert International Airport. At Newark Liberty International Airport, Chicago Midway and Chicago O’Hare International Airport the chapels are inter-religious, but with the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in all three.
2. The location of the chapel in the airport
The chapel is not isolated architecturally but is part of a clearly defined whole. On the one hand, therefore, it must harmonize with this, but on the other it should make its own specific contribution to the whole. It is therefore desirable for the Catholic chapel to have something that expresses its “nature”, something to distinguish it from the other chapels.
The first condition to be considered in choosing the location is – as Archbishop Marchetto emphasized – that the chapel must be easily accessible for the airport “population”; there must be clearly visible signs indicating its position. The ideal place is therefore the area between the zone open to the general public and the zone reserved for those who have passed passport control. There should be entry to the chapel from both zones, obviously with the necessary security measures as for example a wall of unbreakable glass to divide the two zones.
From the answers we have received it is difficult to judge this aspect of the question. Chaplains just name the terminal or the floor on which the chapel is situated. This obviously makes it impossible to see what category of persons has access to the chapel. What is needed is a more detailed description of the location or a plan of the airport to be able to judge the ease of access.
Of the forty chapels in question, however, only eight are located in the public sector (Zurich, Paris CDG, Dresden, Dublin, Krakow, Wroclaw, Danzig and Katowice).
The following table summarizes the information provided by the chaplains:
3. Celebration of Holy Mass
If an airport has a chapel, it is to be hoped and expected that the Eucharist will be celebrated there regularly.
Archbishop Marchetto recalled the affirmation of the second Vatican Council that the celebration of the Eucharist is the culmination and the centre of all Christian life (Lumen Gentium 11) and that the faithful are required to be present at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation (Canon 1246). This view is again confirmed by the latest Papal Encyclical even in its title, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Our incorporation into Christ effected in baptism is constantly renewed and consolidated by participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice and banquet. It follows that Holy Mass should be celebrated in airports on Sundays and holy days of obligation so that the faithful may come together to hear the Word of God and participate in the paschal mystery, receiving the Eucharist and thus fulfilling more easily their obligation.
It is therefore a source of satisfaction to learn that in the majority of airports this does actually happen. There are namely nine airports in which Holy Mass is celebrated on Sundays, days of obligation, feast days and the vigils of feast days. Even more encouraging is the fact that in eleven chapels Holy Mass is celebrated daily as well as on feast days. Then in some airports the chaplaincy provides for the celebration of Holy Mass outside usual hours, for example, apart from Sundays, Mass is also celebrated on request in three. Then there are variations in the calendar of celebrations.
The work of a chaplain actually involves many pastoral duties that require a priest. If the mission is entrusted to a deacon, regular Sunday Mass celebrations are difficult. Thus in two Swiss airports Mass is only celebrated 3 or 4 times a year and on the same number of occasions there is a Liturgy of the Word with the possibility of receiving communion.
When priests or groups accompanied by a priest are passing through the airport or even pilgrim groups without a priest, Mass is celebrated occasionally or on request. Four chaplains mention such a possibility.
There are unfortunately 5 airports in which Mass is never celebrated (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, Miami, Pulkovo, Katowice and Stuttgart).
4. Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament
In the above mentioned encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II reminds us of the importance of the reservation and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass. The Holy Father writes, “The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass … derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual. … The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace.” (EE 25).
The results of our inquiry show that the Blessed Sacrament is present in nineteen chapels; in nine of them it is reserved in a tabernacle. Most of the chapels in which the Sacrament is reserved are in effect Catholic (twelve). It is however very encouraging that the Eucharist is reserved in four ecumenical and three inter-religious chapels too, which shows that this is possible given the right circumstances and the good will of all concerned.
It will be seen that one of the difficulties faced by Catholic chaplains, especially today, is that of finding a suitable place for reservation of the sacrament in the chapel, seeing that in some cases as mentioned above the authorities make only one room available for all religions. Eighteen chaplains state that this is their case and confirm that there is no reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in their chapels. The eighteen chapels concerned are ecumenical or inter-religious.
In the airport of Leipzig/Halle and Ninoy Aquino International Airport, both of which have an ecumenical and a Catholic chapel, the possibility of a reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is now being studied.
Conclusions of Archbishop Agostino Marchetto
The picture we can put together from these answers seems eloquent enough in spite of its limits. To sum it up we can say that of the 40 chapels under review in 35 international and one national airports, fourteen are catholic, seven ecumenical and nineteen inter-religious; in two airports there is no chapel, but in one of these the opening of a chapel is planned.
Regarding the “nature” of the chapels (Catholic, ecumenical or inter-religious), it is difficult for us to establish the determining factors. We are however convinced that many elements influence this (the size of the airport, the religious preferences of the airport authorities, the “official religion” of the country in which the airport is situated, etc.), but perhaps there is room in all this for the Catholic authorities of the place to play their part and for the future chaplain to show his initiative and plead for the “Catholic cause”. There is also room for mutual understanding in dialogue with our brothers not yet in full communion with us or with the believers of other religions. In religious matters we should be able to go beyond the least common multiple, in many cases.
As regards the celebration of the Holy Mass, in airports where a permanent deacon is responsible for pastoral care, it is clear that collaboration with neighbouring parishes is vital and essential unless there is a priest available part-time. But in airports where the chapel is parochial in structure or where there is a priest present full-time, Mass should be celebrated daily.
The answers confirm, however, how generous the chaplains are, the commitment to their mission, and we are happy to have this opportunity to thank them also for having replied to our questionnaire.In conclusion the Pontifical Council maintains that the outcome of the inquiry is an encouragement to all with the prospect of a Catholic presence in airports that is not diminishing (as regards celebration of the Holy Mass or reservation of the Eucharist for adoration), but one that constitutes a Catholic contribution towards the visible unity of Christians with respect for all. We are strengthened in this view by our own ecumenical vision and also by that of Oscar Cullmann. Both consider that the specific contribution of each Church or ecclesial Community is of importance in fashioning what will one day be the united family of God’s children.
 The table we give here at the end of this document should prove interesting.
 Pope John Paul II, address at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on the occasion of the World Day of Air Transport, 10th December 1991.
 Code of Canon Law, canon 1214.
 As stated above the Stuttgart Airport Chapel was opened in March this year.