Meetings in the "plazas of the sky"
The world has been significantly cut down in size by the increase and technological development of the means of transportation. Centuries ago, the speed of movement was limited to the mere human pace, and the transport of material was restricted to what man himself could carry. The invention of the wheel and the use of domesticated animals greatly favored mobility. When the boat was substituted by the ship, and man was able, thanks to technological development, to get his bearings with acceptable precision on the vast oceans, globalization made a great leap forward.
The Crossroads of Modern Mobility
During the last century, man has decidedly shifted the frontiers of mobility with the invention of the airplane. Just a few years after Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic (1927), today many thousands of persons cross that ocean daily at amazing speed and with a safety that have increased by almost 100%.
If the airways represent the highways of modern mobility, airports are the crossroads of the global village. Every day thousands of persons travel these crossroads. Some persons leave for vacation; others instead move to attend important meetings; still others begin a pilgrimage to deepen and strengthen their faith, and for some this voyage means a radical change in their lives because they hope to find well-being and happiness.
International airports are the mirror of the world: people from every race, culture and religion can be found there.
Life never stops in an airport. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of persons, the traffic on these crossroads is organized in a very precise way. No airplane can leave if there is not absolute certainty that the flight will be safe, and it is constantly kept under control throughout the entire voyage. In international airports, various landing or departure operations take place per minute. All aircraft receive instructions from the control tower in order to land and to make it possible for passengers and their baggage to reach the appointed destination. During stopovers, the aircraft is cleaned, refueled and supplied with snacks, meals and beverages. The airport itself has to be updated with the new technologies. All this requires the efforts of many persons who often have a great responsibility because in the sky the slightest error can have fatal consequences.
The Role of the Church
During the last decades, the role of international airports has undergone a radical transformation: they have become real plazas where it is possible to satisfy most needs. From the very beginning, the Church has had its place in this context. In many international airports there is a chapel and/or a place for inter-religious prayer and meditation. Many passengers and airport employees feel the need for recollection in a place of prayer, even if they are surrounded by a frenetic atmosphere. As can be noted from the reflections and intentions noted on the registry that is often found in the chapel, many persons feel the need to put themselves in God's hands and make Him an integral part of their lives.
The chaplain carries out a delicate and important task that is difficult to describe. It is a presence, a witness to the Risen Christ. Although the relationship that passengers have with the chaplain may be rather short, it can nonetheless be very significant. The employees find in him a valualbe help that can be manifested in the form of a consoling word and above all an understanding heart. Since he is a competent person, he is in a position to feel the moments of tension and difficulty and knows how to handle them appropriately.
By taking advantage of the help of volunteers, the chaplain runs the chaplaincy. He also tries to set up a dialogue with the representatives of other religions.
In order to share experiences and learn from one another, the chaplains are also organized internationally. The Catholic chaplains of the world meet every two years in a seminar organized by this Pontifical Council. In the United States, the Catholic chaplains have created the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains (NCCAC) and schedule a conference every year. The European chaplains have also gotten organized .
The International airports have become "meeting plazas" of our "global village". They are similar to the Areopagus of Athens where Saint Paul proclaimed the Gospel using a language suitable and understandable in that environment. The Holy Father proposes this Areopagus as a "symbol of the new sectors in which the Gospel must be proclaimed" (RM 37). In the Pastoral Directives for Civil Aviation, the task of Catholic chaplains is described in these three words: witness, proclamation and presence (Catholic Civil Aviation Pastoral Directives, 9-15). In this way they intend to share in the Church's universal mission to proclaim the Good News to all.