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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 105 (Suppl.), December 2007



Vatican Radio InterviewS



Q. Why have you chosen this theme for your World Seminar this year?

A. It was the chaplains themselves that suggested it. You see, some terrorist threats and attacks involved airplanes and airports, right there in those places where our chaplains carry out their mission. Day after day they come in contact with people who work or pass through the airports, Therefore, they know the feeling of fear and insecurity that they experience. We, however, want to overcome fear, hatred and violence, but in the certainty that evil does not have the last word to say in human affairs. We believe in God’s merciful care that knows how to touch even the most hardened hearts, and above all, that knows how to let good come forth even from evil. In fact, the sense of solidarity and the benefit of international cooperation is greater now, more than ever. In this regard, Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith will offer us with some philosophical and theological reflections regarding the problem of evil. 

Q. How do you intend to tackle the theme of the Seminar?

A. We want to take three aspects into consideration. The first is regarding the right to defend ourselves from terrorism. However, we must do everything we can to fight it in a “different” way – this is the second point. An effective tool in this regard is dialogue, particularly that among religions. The third aspect underlines the fact that we must act concretely there where we carry out our pastoral mission.

We therefore invited a representative of the United Nations and of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), so that they can illustrate to us their strategies to fight terrorism in airports and on airplanes. In this way we can help the people involved to cooperate and also offer them our pastoral support. Obviously, we want to make sure that everyone’s human rights are respected, even in counter-terrorism strategies.

To be able and to know how to fight terrorism through dialogue, we asked the advice of the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Card. Paul Poupard, and of the Secretary of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Bishop Brian Farrell.

Finally, we asked our chaplains of Newark (USA) and Heathrow (London) airports to share with us their respective pastoral experiences during the attack of the Twin Towers and other sensitive strategic objectives in the US, and at the discovery of a plan for a terrorist attack in the London-Heathrow airport. These are concrete situations that can teach us how to face real conditions of fear and violence with the certainty that good wins over everything.   

Q. What is the raison d’être of these Seminars?

A. These are regular appointments every two years intended to give the airport chaplains and pastoral agents the opportunity to share ideas and experiences regarding this modern and difficult ministry, and also to help them not to feel alone and isolated. This year, 80 of them are coming from 20 countries in all continents. They wish to meet in Rome, the See of Peter, to have the chance to confirm their fidelity to the Holy Father, and their filial obedience to his magisterium. 

Q. In what does the pastoral care of Civil Aviation consist?

A. It is a pastoral care of presence, proclamation and celebration, as well as of consolation for those who are in the airports and on airplanes which employ a large number of people. Because of the nature of their jobs, these people cannot usually receive the ordinary pastoral care offered by their parishes. The Church therefore goes towards them and lives with them their daily reality. She also goes to those who are confined in the airport detention centers because they are not adequately documented and also those who are homeless and take refuge in the airports.

This mission is carried out through the work of the chaplains and pastoral agents among the airport population, to be the heart and the arms of the Church in that milieu, even only with their presence and by listening. They are important points of reference in times of emergency like during the terrorist attacks. Where it is possible, we try to institute a chapel, preferably with the presence of the Eucharist or at least a place of worship, where everyone can pause in silence beyond the noise and the hurry that characterize an airport.

In about 150 airports in the world, there is a chapel or a place of worship. There are about 115 Catholic airport chaplains and 50 pastoral agents who are deacons or lay people.