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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 97, April 2005 



“The Spiritual Heart of the Airport”



Rev. Sr. Halina Urszula PANDER, A.M.

Official of the Pontifical Council for the 

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People



As stated in Part I of this study, after the Fourth European Seminar for Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members, held in Lyons (France) from May 12-16, 2003, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People conducted an inquiry among the Catholic civil aviation chaplains around the world regarding airport chapels, with particular reference to the celebrations held in them, and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.

The objective was to gather information that would make it possible to know the general situation with regard to the position of the chapel inside the airports, its “character”, the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapels, and the frequency with which the Eucharist is celebrated there. This is all aimed at supporting the chaplains in their efforts to make the airport chapel more “visible” and accessible to the personnel and the passengers, and to hold liturgical services there ever more regularly.

A first consideration of the responses that reached the Pontifical Council made it possible to outline a self-explanatory picture of the situation.The results of the inquiry were published in People on the Move[1], and communicated to all the Airport Chaplains.After that publication, the Pontifical Council received further information from the chaplains, and so it was decided to publish this “supplement”.

Further Contributions to the Inquiry

In offering this supplementary data, we will follow the method used in Part I: that is, first the airports will be listed with their relative chapels and their “character”. Next, a description will be given of the location of the chapel, followed by an analysis of the frequency with which Holy Mass is celebrated there and the presence of the Eucharist.

The additional responses refer to 11 airports in 9 countries.Below we are listing the airports with the name of the chaplain or pastoral worker responsible in parentheses.


Kenya (No. 1): Nairobi – Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (Rev. John J. Garvey)

Zambia (No. 1): Lusaka – Lusaka International Airport (Sr. Bernard M. Nkando)


Argentina (No. 1): Ezeiza – Aeropuerto Int. Ministro Pistarini (Rev. Anibal Eugenio Sosa)

Colombia (No. 1): Bogotá – Aeropuerto Int. El Dorado (Rev. Ramón Alveiro Zambrano Echeverri)

USA (No. 1): Sacramento CA – Sacramento Int. Airport (Rev. Anthony Traynor)


Germany (No. 1): Munich – Munich Int. Airport (Rev. Leo Mosses)

Great Britain (No. 1): Birmingham – Birmingham Int. Airport (Rev. David Lacy)

Italy (No. 3):   Genoa – Genova (Rev. Mario German)

                       Milan – Milan/Malpensa Int. Airport (Rev. Arturo Rossini)

                       Rome – Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Int. Airport (Rev. Giorgio Rizzieri)

Malta (No. 1): Luqa – Malta Int. Airport (Rev. Victor Enriquez, O. Carm.).

         At the end of this continuation of the inquiry, the reader can find a summary table (Table No. 1) of the answers presented here. 

The Chapel and Its “Character”

Let us recall from the start what John Paul II stated about the airport chapel to the directors and employees of Fiumicino Airport before leaving for one of his pastoral voyages to Africa on February 12, 1982. On that occasion the Pope said, “The setting up of the chapel, inside this airport as in every other large airport, makes it possible to carry out a pastoral apostolate, ever more topical and vast, to meet the needs and expectations of those who use the airport, both those who depart on their journeys—pilots, crew and passengers—and the airport staff. The airport community will be able to meet in the chapel to hear the Word of God on special liturgical occasions and to strengthen their faith, pledging themselves to bear witness to it in their daily activity so as to become a leaven of Christian and human values”[2].

After thanking the airport management for “their solicitous and practical attention to the values of the spirit”, John Paul II expressed his satisfaction and gratitude “to all–bishops and those responsible for other airports–who have been sensitive to the need to provide a chapel there”[3].

The eleven answers, examined this time, enable us to outline the following picture:

Number Airports

Names of Airports

Number chapels per airport




Rome Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport (FCO); Malta (Luqa) (MLA); Lusaka Inter-national Airport (LUN); Aeropuerto Ministro Pistarini International Ezeiza (EZE); El Dorado Airport (BOG)





Catholic chapels


Milan/Malpensa Int. Airport (MXP)




Birmingham International Airport (BHX); Nairobi-Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO); Munich International Airport (MUC)



3 ecumenical chapels


Sacramento (SMF)



1 inter-religious chapel


Genoa (GOA)





Therefore, out of the 11 airports considered, in 10 of them there are 11 chapels, of which 7 are Catholic, 3 ecumenical and 1 inter-religious. With regard to Genoa, the Chaplain of that Airport said: “The civil airport authorities will just not give the faculties to build or reserve a special space for prayer, whether it be Catholic, inter-denominational or reserved exclusively for another religion”.

It should also be noted that two of the chaplains concerned report on places of worship for other religions in their airports.This is the case of Rome-Fiumicino and El Dorado in Bogotá. Presumably this is due to a certain willingness on the part of the airport authorities to grant more space for the religions, or it was the result of the concern of the local ecclesial authorities themselves. This would confirm what Archbishop Marchetto wrote in the conclusion of Part I of the inquiry[4].

Location of the Chapel in the Airport

It is worthwhile to recall that “the ideal location of the chapel is in the space between the general public area and the zone open only to those who have passed through border checks, with entrances from both sides, taking obviously necessary precautions to ensure proper security measures such as an unbreakable glass wall between the two areas”.Moreover, “the first factor in choosing a place for the intended chapel must be easy accessibility for the airport ‘populationÂÂ’, properly indicated through the use of conventional signs. In other words it should be visible”[5].

An overview of the information supplied by the eleven chaplains about the location of the chapel in the airport lets the following picture emerge: 





Departures terminal


1st floor, terminal “A” 


2nd floor terminal


Center of terminal


Transit area


Section “B” of airport

Celebration of Holy Mass

The Eucharist is the source and culmination of the life and mission of the Church. Therefore, as the Catholic Civil Aviation Pastoral Directives recall, it is necessary to encourage frequent liturgical celebrations in the airport in harmony with the norms in force in the Catholic Church[6]. In No. 26, the following is specified: “Since the celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord's Day is the foundation and center of the whole liturgical year, on Sundays and days of precept, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. On those days, the sacrament of the Eucharist should be celebrated at least once at the airport to allow the airport faithful to assemble and listen to the Word of God, take part in the Paschal Mystery, and fulfil their obligation”.

From the chaplainsÂÂ’ responses, we learn that in most of the chapels, the ChurchÂÂ’s norms regarding the celebration of Holy Mass are observed. In fact, in seven of the airports surveyed, Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on holy days. The Sacramento airport, which has an inter-religious chapel, is the only exception. Four of the chaplains note that in addition to the Eucharistic celebrations at which the chaplain presides regularly, Holy Mass is also celebrated by priests in transit in the airport.

In the following table we are reporting the data we received, following the order of the frequency with which the Eucharist is celebrated in the airport. 



Rome/Fiumicino (Italy)

Every day and at the request of priests in transit

Bogotá (Colombia)

Every day

Malta (Malta)

Saturdays and eves of holy days; Sundays and holy days

Munich (Germany)

Saturdays, Sundays and holy days

Milan/Malpensa (Italy)

Every Sunday and on holy days

Ezeiza (Argentina)

Every Friday and at the request of priests in transit

Lusaka (Zambia)

2nd and last Sundays of the month and at the request of priests in transit

Birmingham (Great Britain)

Once a month and at the request of priests in transit

Nairobi (Kenya)

1st Thursday of the month 

Genoa (Italy)

Twice a year

Sacramento (USA)

Mass is not celebrated


Information Regarding Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament

As stated above, out of the 11 chapels surveyed, 7 are Catholic, 3 are ecumenical and one is inter-religious. In examining the responses, we note that the Blessed Sacrament is only kept in 5 chapels, and in 4 of them it is kept in the tabernacle. Now, in referring to the Directives cited above, it is recommended that the Holy Eucharist be kept in the Catholic chapels so that anyone, at any time, can be given “the chance to be in the presence of Jesus Christ himself who has chosen to remain perpetually on earth, under the species of bread and wine, in the Holy Eucharist”.[7]

Final Overview

In order to get a general overview of the situation of airport chapels, we will now briefly take up the data provided by the chaplains who responded to the inquiry and put the results given above together with the initial results.

The responses received provide information about 48 airports, of which 2 are African, 21 are American (19 in the USA), 2 are Asian and 23 are European.There are a total of 55 chapels in the 48 airports surveyed, distributed as follows: in 39 airports there is only one chapel, in 4 airports there are 2, and 2 airports have 4 chapels. In 3 airports there are no chapels.

Next, if we look at the 55 chapels from the viewpoint of their “character” (that is, whether they are Catholic, ecumenical or inter-religious), we get the following picture: in 19 airports there are 25 Catholic chapels, while 9 airports also have 9 ecumenical chapels.The 21 remaining chapels are found in 18 airport sand they are inter-religious.With regard to the United States, out of the 18 airports surveyed, only 3 have Catholic chapels, while the remaining 15 host ecumenical or inter-religious chapels.

As a result, this situation often includes the difficulty of having a suitable place available in the chapels where the Blessed Sacrament can be kept. In fact, 20 chaplains report that the Blessed Sacrament is not kept in their chapels (2 chaplains, however, do not provide information in this regard).

With regard to celebrating the Eucharist, we note the following: there are airports (9) in which Holy Mass is celebrated on Sundays and the eves of holy days, on holy days and on holy days of obligation. In 11 chapels, Holy Mass is celebrated daily. In some airports, on the other hand, Mass is celebrated according to request at different times with respect to the usual timetable (6).

On the basis of what has been presented until now, the judgment of the Secretary of this Pontifical Council Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, can be confirmed: the presence of a chapel inside the airport represents an increasingly current challenge[8].Moreover, the results can be encouraging in view of a Catholic presence in the airports that is not diminishing, but capable of aiding the path towards the visible unity of Christians with respect for all, also on the Catholic side, as already concluded in Part I of our article[9]

“Il cuore spirituale dellÂÂ’aeroporto”



Come risulta nella I parte di questo studio,(vedi lÂÂ’articolo The spiritual heart of the Airport results of an inquiry, in People on the Move XXXVI (N. 94) pp. 81-95) in seguito al IV Seminario Europeo dei Cappellani Cattolici e degli Operatori Pastorali dell'Aviazione Civile, celebratosi dal 12 al 16 maggio 2003, a Lione (Francia), il Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti ha condotto presso i Cappellani Cattolici dell'Aviazione Civile di tutto il mondo, un'inchiesta sulle cappelle aeroportuali, con particolare riferimento alle Celebrazioni ivi svolte e alla presenza in esse del Santissimo Sacramento. L'obiettivo era quello di raccogliere informazioni che permettessero di conoscere la realtà generale riguardante la posizione della cappella all'interno degli aeroporti, il suo "carattere", la presenza in esse del Santissimo Sacramento e la frequenza della Celebrazione Eucaristica. Tutto ciò allo scopo di poter sostenere i Cappellani nel loro sforzo di rendere la cappella aeroportuale più "visibile" e accessibile, sia al personale sia ai passeggeri, e per svolgervi sempre più regolarmente il servizio liturgico. Dopo la pubblicazione dei risultati delle risposte pervenute al Pontificio Consiglio, sono giunte ulteriori informazioni da parte dei Cappellani, per cui si è deciso di pubblicare questo “supplemento”.

Al fine di avere una panoramica generale della situazione delle cappelle aeroportuali, sono stati ripresi concisamente tutti i dati forniti dai Cappellani che hanno risposto allÂÂ’inchiesta. Orbene le risposte pervenute offrono indicazioni su 47 aeroporti, di cui uno africano, 21 americani (19 Statunitensi), 2 asiatici e 23 europei. In totale dunque ci sono 54 cappelle nei 47 aeroporti recensiti, distribuite nel modo seguente: in 38 aeroporti c'è soltanto una cappella, in 4 ve ne sono due, mentre 2 aeroporti ne hanno 4. Infine, in tre aeroporti non c'è alcuna cappella. Se guardiamo poi le 54 cappelle dal punto di vista del loro "carattere" (cioè se cattolico, ecumenico o inter-religioso), abbiamo il seguente quadro: in 19 aeroporti ci sono 25 cappelle cattoliche, mentre 8 aeroporti hanno anche otto cappelle ecumeniche. Le rimanenti 21 cappelle si trovano in 18 aeroporti e sono inter-religiose. Soffermandoci a considerare gli Stati Uniti, dei 18 aeroporti recensiti, soltanto 3 hanno una cappella cattolica. I rimanenti 15 ospitano, infatti, cappelle ecumeniche o inter-religiose. Tale realtà comporta di conseguenza la difficoltà, spesso, di disporre nelle cappelle di un luogo conveniente in cui custodire il Santissimo Sacramento. Infatti, 19 Cappellani attestano che nelle loro cappelle non è conservato il Santissimo Sacramento (tre Cappellani però non offrono indicazioni al riguardo). A proposito della celebrazione dellÂÂ’Eucaristia, si constata quanto segue: vi sono aeroporti (9) in cui la Santa Messa è celebrata sia la Domenica che nei giorni prefestivi, festivi e di precetto. In 11 cappelle, invece, la Santa Messa viene celebrata quotidianamente. In alcuni aeroporti, infine si celebra anche su richiesta, in tempi differenti dall'orario abituale. 

In base a quanto fin qui esposto, è confermato quanto S.E. lÂÂ’Arcivescovo Marchetto notava, a conclusione dellÂÂ’art. precedente, e cioè che la presenza di una cappella allÂÂ’interno dellÂÂ’aeroporto rappresenta una sfida sempre attuale e permanente. I risultati possono essere dÂÂ’incoraggiamento in vista di una presenza cattolica negli aeroporti non in declino, ma idonea anzi ad aiutare il cammino verso l'unità visibile dei cristiani, nel rispetto di ciascuno, però anche della parte cattolica.

"El corazón espiritual del aeropuerto" 



Como resulta de la Ia parte de este estudio (v. el artículo “The Spiritual Heart of the Aeroport, Results of an Inquary”, in People on the Move XXXVI, n. 94, pp. 81-95), como consecuencia del IV Seminario Europeo de los Capellanes Católicos y de los Agentes Pastorales de la Aviación Civil, celebrado del 12 al 16 Mayo 2003, en Lyon (Francia), el Pontifício Consejo para la Pastoral de los Emigrantes e Itinerantes ha llevado a cabo, entre los Capellanes Católicos de la Aviación Civil de todo el mundo, una encuesta sobre las capillas aeroportuarias, con referencia particular a las Celebraciones allí realizadas y la presencia del Santísimo Sacramento en las mismas. El objetivo era el de recoger información que permitiese conocer la realidad general respecto a la posición de la capilla en el interior de los aeropuertos, su "carácter", la presencia en ella del Santísimo Sacramento y la frecuencia de la Celebración Eucarística. Todo ello con el objetivo de poder apoyar a los Capellanes en su esfuerzo por hacer la capilla aeroportuaria más "visible" y accesible, sea al personal, sea a los pasajeros, y desarrollar siempre más regularmente el servicio litúrgico. Tras la primera publicación de los resultados de las respuestas llegadas al Pontifício Consejo, se ha sumado una ulterior información por parte de los Capellanes, por lo que se ha decidido publicar este "suplemento".

Con el fin de tener una panorámica general de la situación de las capillas aeroportuarias, se han considerados de nuevo concisamente todos los datos fornecidos por los Capellanes que han respondido a la encuesta. Ahora bien, las respuestas recibidas ofrecen indicaciones sobre 47 aeropuertos, de los cuales uno africano, 22 americanos (19 de los Estados Unidos), 2 asiáticos y 23 europeos. En total, pues, suman 54 capillas en los 47 aeropuertos recensados, distribuidas de la siguiente manera: en 38 aeropuertos existe solo una capilla, en 4 son dos, mientras 2 aeropuertos disponen de 4: En fin, en tres aeropuertos no existe ninguna. Si miramos a las 54 capillas desde el punto de vista de su "carácter" (es decir, católico, ecuménico o interreligioso), tenemos el siguiente cuadro: en 19 aeropuertos, son 25 las capillas católicas, mientras 8 aeropuertos disponen también de ocho capillas ecuménicas. Las restantes 21 se encuentran en 18 aeropuertos y son interreligiosas. Tal realidad comporta, en consecuencia, la dificultad frecuente de poder disponer en las capillas de un lugar adecuado en donde conservar el Santísimo Sacramento (tres Capellanes no ofrecen indicaciones al respecto). A propósito de la celebración de la Santa Misa, se constata cuanto sigue: hay aeropuertos (9) en los que la Santa Misa es celebrada bien el Domingo o bien en días prefestivos, festivos y de precepto. En 11 capillas, por otro lado, la Santa Misa es celebrada cotidianamente. En algunos aeropuertos finalmente se celebra también, por petición, en tiempos diferentes del horario habitual.

En base a lo expuesto hasta ahora, se confirma cuanto S.E. el Arzobispo Marchetto advertía, como conclusión del artículo precedente, es decir, que la presencia de una capilla en el interior de un aeropuerto representa un reto siempre actual los y permanente. Los resultados pueden ser animadores en vista de una presencia católica, en aeropuertos, no en decadencia, sino más bien idónea para ayudar en el camino hacia la unidad visible de los cristianos, en el respeto mutuo, pero también de la parte católica.

[1] See: The Spiritual Heart of the Airport (results of an inquiry), in People on the Move XXXVI (2004), 81-95.
[2] JOHN PAUL II, Discourse at Fiumicino Airport, February 12, 1982, in: ORE, N. 7 (722), February 15, 1982, p. 1.
[3] Ibid., p. 2.
[4] Cf. The Spiritual HeartÂÂ…, pp. 88-89.
[5] ARCHBISHOP AGOSTINO MARCHETTO, Challenges for the Pastoral Care of Civil Aviation, in: People on the Move, XXXV (N. 91-92), pp. 87-96.
[6] PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE PASTORAL CARE OF MIGRANTS AND ITINERANT PEOPLE, Catholic Civil Aviation Pastoral Directives, No. 25, in: pontifical_councils/ migrants/s_index_civilaviation
[7] Ibid., No. 19a.
[8] Cf. ARCHBISHOP AGOSTINO MARCHETTO, Conclusion, People on the Move, XXXVI (N. 94) pp.88-89; Cf. ID.,  op. cit. ,pp. 90-91 
[9] Cf. The Spiritual HeartÂÂ…, p. 88.