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Vatican conference held for airport chaplains

Vatican conference held for airport chaplains

(Vatican Radio) The Vatican hosted a conference on pastoral care for civil aviation on Tuesday.

“In our world, where the dignity of people and human lives are violated, it is necessary to be guards who watch, so that freedom and social justice in airports would be a daily reality,” said Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegli Vegliò, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

He said airport chaplains help the community to understand that the joy of the Christian does not consist in being satisfied on things, but of staying with Jesus who “broadens horizons and opens a larger field”, where men are called to live together in a brotherhood that has no boundaries. 

“At the airport, a place of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, where the various religions interrelate, you bring ahead the Gospel mission with your charisma of men and women of encounter and dialogue, capable of compassion and tenderness,” said Cardinal Vegliò.


The full interventions of Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegli Vegliò, Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil, and Fr. Gabriele Bentoglio are below.



(Unofficial translation)


Cardinal Antonio Maria VEGLIÒ

President of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Dear Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members,

Dear brothers and sisters,


With great joy, I welcome you all who have come to Rome for the 16th World Congress of Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members.  It is a great pleasure meeting you again to celebrate this meeting, organized by our Pontifical Council, on the theme: What help can “Evangelii Gaudium” offer to the pastoral ministry of Civil Aviation?  In our reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, we will try to face the challenges that this document raises to the pastoral care of Civil Aviation.  Moreover, there will also be the opportunity to discuss the pastoral issues inherent in your apostolate in the light of the teachings of the Church today, because it is a beautiful thing to move in the Church and feel with it.

The Holy Father has expressed the hope that the mission and the pastoral care of the Church be carried out with the joy that comes from the Gospel.  In this sense, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is a challenge to the whole Church so that it would know how to read the signs of the times at the present time.  Also the Pastoral Care of the Civil Aviation wants to embark upon a new chapter in this Congress towards the joy of the Gospel and translate it concretely in its mission amidst the people entrusted to its care.

Pope Francis has launched a call for a renewed missionary and pastoral awareness with these words: “In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (EG, no. 1). With the support of the Holy Spirit, we want to discover that from faith, hope and charity new possibilities for a better world can arise in places where you are committed in the service of the Gospel.  Each one of you must fulfill this commitment with renewed fervor, in the environments where you are called to serve the Gospel. 

The pastoral renewal called for consists in conveying the joy of the Gospel and, with it, hope in the hearts of the people.  The communication of Christian joy is done with words, gestures and concrete actions that create what is good.  In our world, where the dignity of people and human lives are violated, it is necessary to be guards who watch, so that freedom and social justice in airports would be a daily reality.  Since airports are borders, they are always at the risk of being places of human distress.

Sometimes, in the airport, people arrive from countries suffering from very difficult political and religious situations: let us think of the Christians in the Middle East and Africa who are persecuted and massacred, of migrants and refugees who come from areas of poverty and war. Those who are not touched by similar tragedies have obligations towards them and the first of these is prayer.  Prayer is the strength of believers; it opens the heart to welcoming. For this reason, it is opportune to organize often in the airports moments of ecumenical or inter-religious prayer, getting involved also the airport community.

Statistics show that in 4 out of 10 countries, religious freedom is limited.  Some 196 countries were analyzed in recent years, and only in six of them there was a record of an improvement of the position of religious minorities, while in other 55 the situation worsened.  This means that in almost 30% of the countries surveyed between October 2012 and June 2014, the situation of religious minority groups had worsened.  Furthermore, 26 countries were identified as places in which the degree of violation of religious freedom was rated as “medium” or “high”. If we add to these 26 countries the 55 countries where there has been a deterioration of the situation, there will be a total of 81 out of 196 countries, just over 40%, where religious freedom is restricted or is in decline1.  Some speak of 150 million persecuted Christians in the world2. 

In front of these tragic facts, we must not be taken by pessimism, but we must insist on the force of dialogue, aware that “true openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that  dialogue can enrich each side (EG, no. 251).3

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council stated that religious freedom is a fundamental right that must never be violated, but it should be preserved so that every person can enjoy it.4 We must put pastoral solicitude at the service of the needs of our time, bringing the light of the Gospel on every human reality, especially on the more desperate ones.  Blessed Paul VI said: “contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses rather than to masters, and if they listen to masters, they do it because they are witnesses”.5

The document that guides your pastoral ministry speaks of presence, witness and proclamation.6 These are three pastoral criteria that are deeply interlinked, making chaplains and pastoral workers true heralds of the Gospel in the airports.  In our world, messed up so many problems, being preachers of the Gospel of joy is a great blessing for people’s lives. This does not mean to trivialize the pains of suffering humanity, but as the Prophet Nehemiah teaches, it means making the joy of the Lord their strength (see 8,10). At the airport, where there is often an atmosphere of frenzy, the airport Chapel becomes an island of serenity where Jesus listens and comforts.

The airport chaplain helps his community understand that the joy of the Christian does not consist in being satisfied on things, but of staying with Jesus who broadens horizons and opens a larger field, where men are called to live together in a brotherhood that has no boundaries.  At the airport, a place of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, where the various religions interrelate, you bring ahead the Gospel mission with your charisma of men and women of encounter and dialogue, capable of compassion and tenderness.

Christianity is announcing a joyful event: the Easter of Jesus Christ. Humanity in motion needs this announcement. The Kerygma should allow these people to let Christ live in their hearts (see EG no. 160). Still in the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, in  no. 164, stated that the Kerygma is “the fire of the spirit … given in the form of languages and makes us believe in Jesus Christ, who by His death and resurrection reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy”. 

I hope that these days will be a suitable occasion to look at Jesus together, with a common fraternal feeling, that of civil aviation chaplains and chaplaincy members who have chosen to serve the Lord and spread the Gospel at the airports.7

May the Lord make these days fruitful with His love and may the Holy Spirit guide the work that lies before us.  We hope that all of you will leave this gathering enriched with new energies for a more joyful and fruitful Ministry in the service of the airport community. May your commitment in this community be a blessing and may it help everyone live always in the joy of being Christians and find in the Gospel the true light for their life. 

Let us now proceed with our work!

1 Cf.  Aid to the Church in Need, Report for 2014, Religious freedom in the worldwide, Published by ACN International Bischof-Kindermann-Straße 23, D-61462 Königstein and ACN International-Aid to the Church in need (Foundation of the Catholic Church under Pontifical Regulation), ed. De Agostini Libri SpA-Novara 2014.

2  Cf. Jean-Michel F ALCO et al (Under the direction of), “Le livre noir de la condition des chrétiens dans le monde”, S. LIEVEN (Work coordinated by), XO Éditions, Paris, 2014.

3 See also JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter, Redemptoris missio (December 7, 1990), no. 56.

4 Cf. Dignitatis humanae, no. 2: “This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.”

5 Pope Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (2 October 1974): AAS 66 (1974), p. 568, cited in Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 41.

6 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Catholic Civil Aviation Pastoral Directives, Vatican City, 1995, nos. 9- 15

7 Cf. EG, no. 156: “It entails responding to the love of God by putting all our talents and creativity at the service of the mission which he has given us” which becomes “a fine, active love of neighbour by refusing to offer others a product of poor quality.”



(Unofficial translation)


Secretary of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Your Eminence,

Dear Airport Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members,

Dear brothers and sisters,


It is a great joy for us to come together after three years and discuss once more issues regarding the Civil Aviation Apostolate, in the light of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. The question that we pose to ourselves is this: What help can “Evangelii Gaudium” offer to the pastoral ministry of airport chaplaincies? In this Seminar we would like to accept the invitation of Pope Francis to a new evangelization, and to apply it to the world of civil aviation, which is the milieu where you carry out your pastoral ministry, so as to apply to the airport apostolate the solicitude expressed in his Apostolic Exhortation.

Today, it is estimated that there are some 29.2 million flights every year and 80,000 commercial flights take place every day. It is predicted that there will be 200 million commercial flights in 2020. It was also calculated that in 2013 there were some 3 billion passengers and that the number reached 3.1 billion last year. These data are not just numbers but men and women with faces, which demonstrates that airport stations are mission areas and that your presence there must be a manifestation of the maternal solicitude of the Church for “those who cannot benefit from her normal care in the parishes because of their airline or airport related occupation”.

In this sense, in the Pastoral Care of Civil Aviation, it is necessary to acknowledge that the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is a resource for the proclamation of the salvation brought about by Christ and to welcome it with faith in order to achieve a better world.


1.         The airport chaplaincy and the joy of the Gospel

You, chaplains, are custodians of the space of Jesus Christ in every airport, where people come to pray. The airport chaplaincy offers the truth of the Gospel with kindness. The Apostle Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all” (Phil 4:4-5). The joy of the Gospel is transmitted in a communicative dynamics that makes the Chapel the house of the Lord, therefore a place that is open to all for purposes of recollection and personal meditation.

The Pope writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (EG, no. 3). The meeting with the Lord is essential and helps in not putting one’s own difficulties on the others. Being a pastor, in fact, means taking the wounded sheep on one’s shoulders and not loading him with other burdens.

The airport chaplaincy spreads the joy of Jesus to the people, when mercy and charity nourish the life of the evangelizer and the evangelized. This means opening the heart, with amazement, to joy and diffusing it with generosity (cfr. EG, nos. 193-196), being always in the attitude of listening to the people and to God himself (cfr. EG, no. 154). Therefore, we must not allow ourselves to be oppressed by daily sadness, but it is necessary to face it with our heart illuminated by the light of the Gospel.

It is true, we can meet different faces, various cultures, new questions, but all this must not be a reason for discouragement. All the more so, we must take courage and undertake urgent issues, and listen to the Holy Spirit who is always present. The Spirit acts when we are at the limits of our human forces and he helps us overcome anguish and reticence.


2.         The Chapel as a space of joy of the Gospel in the airport

The airport chapel is the crib of the mission in the airport, where the Eucharist is celebrated. It is the space of the sacred . It guarantees the faithful’s worship of the Lord and is reserved “only for those things which serve to exercise or promote worship, piety and religion” (Directives, op. cit., no. 18). So that worship can be done well, the chapel must also be a place of the Gospel of joy. In it, Jesus will welcome the needy and those who go to Him with their burdens. A Christian cannot live without an encounter with Jesus, “which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

On the other hand, the encounter with Jesus in the chapel will not take place if people are not encouraged to have a contact with him. The Lord must be at the center of his House. In fact, in the Catholic airport chapel, “the Blessed Sacrament should be reserved” so that everyone, at any time, will have the possibility “to be in the presence of Jesus Christ” (Directives, no. 19a). For this reason, it is important to guarantee a “space of spiritual freedom” where every person can have a dialogue with the Lord.


3.         The joy of the Gospel in order to communicate the motherhood of the Church

The proclamation of the Gospel in the airport is not an exclusive work of the Chaplain and his collaborators, but also involves the Christian faithful in the airport community. Therefore, it is necessary to identify roles so that all of them would feel that they are part of the common baptismal mission and protagonists of the pastoral care of the airport, precisely because their voices can reach those places that cannot be reached by yours. You have to help them discover the work of the Holy Spirit that animates the Christian vocation (cf. EG, no. 119).

You need to grow together in the awareness that giving witness to the motherhood of the Church is done through all the believers who have accepted the Gospel as the true light of their lives. By living in common the joy of being disciples of Jesus and children of the Church we help people discover the face of Christ and the maternal heart of the Church. The Pope writes: “What is called for is an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values” (EG, no. 74).

Airport apostolate can take for itself “the challenge of a missionary spirituality” that reaches the heart of those who suffocate the Gospel and relativize their Christian identity (cfr. EG, nos. 78-79).

Those who are baptized should be happy of their identity. And you, dear friends, are called to identify yourselves with the evangelizing mission, to live the joy of the mission, to be proud of the Gospel that does not disappoint. The joy of having the Gospel and of evangelizing nourishes enthusiasm in our mission. For this reason, the Holy Father urges us not to let ourselves be robbed of missionary enthusiasm (cfr. EG, no. 80).


4.         An apostolate of proximity among the airport employees

The people who work in the airports, at times, go through difficult moments due to stress at work, to family problems, and often they wish to hear a word of hope. They need you who live your daily mission in their midst. They are mothers and fathers with families. They are young in search of social and economic security; therefore they need pastors that correspond to the heart of Jesus. Go towards them with a pastoral spirit, from “person to person” which creates proximity and spreads the friendship of Jesus.

“Evangelical proclamation” needs forms of communication wherein the People of God will find again its center of interest (cfr. EG, no. 129). In the airport, where there are various professional categories, it is necessary to evangelize also the “professional, scientific and academic circles”. Faith, reason and science can be a leaven for a more profound human spirit that gives credibility to the Gospel (cfr. EG, no. 132).

In the apostolate, charism must arise from a contact with the Word, so that“evangelization” would be attractive (cfr. EG, no. 131). By putting your charism at the service of your community you will be both disciples and missionaries. Therefore, it is necessary to help the faithful undergo the experience of the Samaritan woman who, after talking with Jesus, went to narrate everything that she witnessed (cfr. Jn. 4:1-42). As you approach every person, listen to his joys and his problems.


5. Liturgy and the proclamation of the Gospel of joy in the airport

Liturgy is a privileged moment of the proclamation of the Gospel, which requires a serious consideration on the part of the Pastors. “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people” (EG, no. 135). In fact, in the homily one experiences the Spirit and encounters the Word of God; he is renewed and grows because there the Lord touches the hearts of the people . Through preaching, the power of the Divine Word passes through human words: “I believed and therefore I spoke” (2 Cor 4:13).

The homily must take into consideration some exigencies, like “the liturgical context, the transmission of the motherhood of the Church and speaking to warm the hearts of the people.” The airport context, which is continuously in mobility, could give the impression that everything distracts and causes dispersion, but what is important is to “know the heart of the community” (EG, no. 137) to satisfy the desire for God that everyone feels, even when spiritual energies grow weak (cfr. EG, n. 139). Moreover, with airport employees, it is important to create networks of friendship that would help preserve in them the Word that has been sown.

Preaching and the Eucharist warm the heart and make it burn.  The liturgy is a place of dialogue between hearts. The preacher unites “hearts that love one another: that of the Lord and those of his people” (EG, no. 135). This mystical dialogue urges an alliance and “consolidates the bond of charity” (idem). The Eucharistic Celebration, which is the source and summit of every pastoral action of the Church, is also a source of joy and generosity that are expressed in the faith, hope and charity received from Christ.


6. People who are travelling, a challenge to pastoral care in airports

The airport is a crossroads of people. Therefore, the proclamation of the Gospel in such a reality becomes a challenge that requires a spiritual and pastoral talent that every chaplaincy member discovers in the contemplation of the Word of God and taking into consideration the social dynamics of the Christian community.

The characteristic of diversity also emerges in the places of worship in airports or in the ecumenical chapels that become spaces of revolution in a globalized world, wherein people unfortunately have a hard time appreciating the beauty of being together. It is that living together sung by the psalmist (Ps 133), which magnifies fraternal life. This is the icon of the reality wherein you carry out your work for the Gospel, where religious sensitivity shares the joyful work for the “salus animarum” which is the supreme law in every pastoral or missionary action of the Church (cfr. CIC, can. 1752).

In effect, in the airports you often collaborate with representatives of other Christian denominations and religions. Therefore, ecumenical commitment, dialogue with people of other religions and that with people who have no religious point of reference are indispensable. We need to appreciate the fact that you have grown in this commitment as recommended also by the basic document of your Apostolate.  In dialogue, indifference is rejected and we all become protagonists of the peace of Christ. The fact that the chapel is accessible to all signifies that pastoral care in airports is a public undertaking. After all, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and social dialogue must be a public proposal.

a.         Ecumenism

Ecumenism is a pastoral itinerary that heals the wounds of division within the Church of Christ. It derives its energy from the Trinitarian mystery.

The “Christian chapel” shared with other Christian denominations is an example of an ecumenical spirit. Knowing that it is not always easy to live together, our Dicastery hopes that sharing a chapel for ecumenical use would come about in “lawful reciprocity according to the doctrine and traditions of each denomination” (Directives, no. 20). Catholic representatives must “show a sincere respect for the liturgical and sacramental discipline of other Churches and ecclesial Communities” (Directives, no. 21). At the same time, it invites the other denominations to have the same respect for Catholic discipline.

Peaceful cohabitation is everyone’s task. In a world where everyone is autonomous, whoever works for ecumenism must go against the current as regards a mentality of division, to create the stupor of fraternity which leads to its roots: Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father exhorts us to acknowledge that the human family will find its unity in the effort of Christian denominations to go back to the unity of the origins of the Church (cfr. EG, no. 245). It is necessary to welcome Jesus so as not to make the work for unity mere diplomacy (cfr. EG, no. 246). In that sense, ecumenism is openness to the action of the Holy Spirit to learn from the others thus reaping what the Holy Spirit has sown in them (idem).

b. Inter-religious dialogue

Inter-religious dialogue is the search for friendship with people of other religions to find what we have in common and what helps us walk side by side. When religions gather together, the evil forces of religious fanaticism are destroyed. Dialogue with Judaism , with Islam  or with whoever has appreciable spiritual values  must be undertaken and brought ahead with evangelical intelligence. Talking and reasoning out together characterize dialogue between religions, as the participants ask themselves about divine truths and human realities.  We need to discern together to find out what is beneficial for the common good (1 Kings 3:1-15).

In the airports with a meditation room, where the sacred texts of the different religions are available, each one is called to be a sentinel of peace, since the inclination to dialogue is not always obvious and spontaneous. It is a duty to carry out with mutual respect among the faithful of the different religions (cfr. Directives, no. 22).

With the other Abrahamic religions there is a point in common: God the Creator (cfr. EG, no. 252). For the other religions, dialogue can be based on human and moral values, which we can discuss in truth (cfr. EG, no. 250). With regards to Islam, in such a critical time for the religion itself, Christian interlocutors must have “suitable training” and present themselves with their own joyful Christian identity (cfr. EG, no. 253). Furthermore, the Holy Father exhorts us thus: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries” (EG, no. 253). This appeal is more urgent for you who carry out your apostolate at the gates of entry into your country.

c. Social Dialogue

The airport community is a context in which social dialogue must grow in order to create social friendship. The Church respects all those who do not profess any religious faith. In its dialogue with society it opens its doors to every person of good will, preserves its own identity and offers itself as a friend to everyone.

 Social dialogue invites us to understand others. In the case of the airport, this means being vigilant so that the airport environment may be a space of “sound pluralism” (EG, no. 255) that contributes to social peace. According to Pope Francis, it is necessary to respect the agnostic or the non-believing minorities, but at the same time he reminds us that such a respect should not suffocate the richness of the religious tradition of the majority, but should increase “tolerance and peace” (EG, no. 255).

The Holy Father exhorts us to be close to those who are looking for “the truth, goodness and beauty” with a sincere heart and to be their ally “in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation” (EG, no. 257). In this way, the airport can become one of the so-called “new Areopagi”, because they are places where “believers and non-believers are able to engage in dialogue about fundamental issues of ethics, art and science, and about the search for transcendence” (EG, no. 257).

The Chaplaincy does not claim to have at its disposal all the solutions to problems that are of social relevance, but “together with the various sectors of society (including airports), she supports those programmes which best respond to the dignity of each person and the common good” (EG, no. 241). In this work in common, chaplains and pastoral agents should propose “in a clear way the fundamental values of human life and convictions which can then find expression in political [and social] activity (EG, no. 241).


7. The airport chaplaincy and renewed fraternal service

In many airports, the Chaplaincy is a sign of hope for the people. It is enough to think of your presence in the holding centers for irregular migrants situated in the airport vicinities, of your being there to accompany families in mourning, of your Christian fraternal service towards pilgrims.

The dimension of fraternal service in the airport apostolate can find new energy in the indication given by Evangelii Gaudium that speaks of a “Church that goes forth” towards the needy. The pastoral dynamism in airports puts together Word – Altar – Community. The Word illuminates the steps. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the mission of the Church. The People of God is entrusted to your charity. It would also be good to involve the airport workers in this salvific work, because in charity and in fraternal service, one finds the joy that frees our hearts from sadness and anguish.

For Pope Francis, the Church must go out and meet all the lost or wounded sheep, meaning the less fortunate and those who are suffering. In no. 12 of the Catholic Civil Aviation Pastoral Directives we read: “If Civil Aviation apostolate is to be in a position to offer Christ to all and be a leaven of the airport society, it must be immersed in the life, problems and contingent situation of the specific environment in which it operates.”


8. Mary, joyful mother and teacher of those who proclaim the Gospel

Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the Virgin of Loreto is the patron saint and the protectress of airport apostolate and of air travellers.  In no. 284 of Evangelii Gaudium we read that Mary is “the Mother of the Church which evangelizes”.

Mary, as everyone’s mother, gives hope to people, becomes our life companion, nourishes our heart with faith thanks to her maternal tenderness, struggles with us and transmits to us the love of God (cfr. EG, no. 286). As a missionary, she walks with each one of you. It is necessary to look at her who allowed herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit  and became “Mother of the living Gospel”: Jesus our hope. Accompanied by Mary, let us walk with faith, hope and charity so that in the name of Jesus we can renew all things.



In closing, I wish that these days may be an occasion for you to stay together as a family and that this seminar may serve to enrich your pastoral commitment in the airports in the light of the teaching of the Church. In pastoral care, as in mission, nothing is static, but everything tends towards perfection. Each one takes the decisive step towards the joy and the beauty of being disciples of Jesus. May your witness, proclamation and presence (cfr. Directives, nos. 9-15) in the airports assume evermore the docility to the Spirit that constantly renews the Church and makes the life of each one a gift for others.



Introduction to the Seminar

(Unofficial translation)

Fr. Gabriele F. BENTOGLIO


of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and Itinerant People



Dear chaplains and members of airport chaplaincies,


It is my task to introduce the work of the XVI World Seminar of Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Airport Chaplaincy Members, which will focus on the theme: Evangelii Gaudium: What help for the Pastoral Ministry of Civil Aviation? As already mentioned by the Cardinal President in his address of welcome, we want to reflect on the challenges that the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” addressed to the whole Church. Studies and reflections of these days want to be already the beginning of our response to the concerns that Pope Francis presents in this document, in view of the special Jubilee that we too will live, especially through the experience of mercy received and given. The Holy Father Francis offered the key to entering this dimension, saying that the first task of the Church, “especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ.”[1]

This year we see new faces participating in this Seminar for the first time. Some come from countries where the pastoral of civil aviation was established only recently: from Prague (Czech Republic); Luanda (Angola) and Abidjan (Ivory Coast). Others are here for the first time, even if they come from countries where the chaplaincy has existed for many years: from Incheon (South Korea); Hong Kong (China); Heathrow (England); Nairobi (Kenya); from Abuja (Nigeria) and Mexico City (Mexico).

It’s good to note that the family of the Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains increases of new members. This shows that more and more often, airports are places where you feel the urgency of the mission of the Church, because in them there is a great human mobility that, not infrequently, brings discomfort and inconveniences which call for the ecclesial intervention. We may consider, for example, the question of arrivals of migrants and of people seeking humanitarian protection; or we may remember the tragedy of 24th March, when 149 people were killed on the Airbus of the Germanwings company that crashed in the Alps. Here are some realities that show that there is much to do in airport terminals.


1. Nature and tasks of the ministry of civil aviation

In fact, our pastoral care is aimed at “all those who, in one way or another, belong to the Civil Aviation community, either permanently or temporarily, regardless of nationality, religious creed or culture, with special attention given to those among them who are poorest, underprivileged, suffering or marginalized.” [2] Our main concern is given to people “who are employed or render their work in airports or airplanes” as stated in the Constitution Pastor Bonus, n. 150 § 3, but also extends to those who travel on planes, as is specified in the document “The Church and Human Mobility”, 1978, no. 2.

Thus, the airport chaplains work in a diverse and complex field, where the chaplaincy live the vocation to become a point of unity in diversity for many categories of people.

Nowadays, the global economic crisis has forced many airlines to reduce the personnel and, in some cases, to defer payment of salaries. These factors have created serious financial difficulties for families.

Then, at the airport sometimes you have to cope with painful situations, as in the case of hijacking or tragic accidents, which affect both passengers and crew members.

We cannot forget, then, that it is growing the phenomenon of passengers without documents – often they are migrants or asylum seekers – who end up being detained in the airport premises for short or long periods, sometimes without adequate human and spiritual assistance. The Holy See, through our Pontifical Council, deals with the particular situation of these people and believes that there is a need of a working group organized to defend their dignity. Therefore, we fully support and encourage with all our heart the work of the chaplains and of the organizations that cooperate in this field. The issue of such a delicate reality cannot be considered alien to your ministry, but an integral part of it, as we understand from our pastoral directives: “If Civil Aviation apostolate is to be in a position to offer Christ to all and be a leaven of the airport society, it must be immersed in the life, problems and contingent situation of the specific environment in which it operates.”[3]

Here are the most frequent cases in which there are people who find themselves without the support of friends, colleagues and relatives, bewilderment and desolation. It is in these circumstances that the chaplain can intervene by offering consolation and encouragement, sometimes even with the administration of the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist. It is here, in fact, that people are very willing to hear the Word of God and the word of the one who proclaims it. Here we already find what the Holy Father Francis hopes especially during the Holy Year of Mercy: “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity!.”[4]

All this can provoke a sense of fear in the chaplains at the thought of the enormous responsibility and work. Since this is a modern ministry and there are few experts and subsidies that may come to the aid to the operators of the chaplaincy, the chaplains themselves should help each other. Therefore it proved to be a good practice, as some chaplains already do, the occasional or programmed visit to other airports, very appropriate for the exchange of experience and fruitful for those who want to learn in loco the nature and duties of the pastoral ministry of civil aviation.


2. The ministry of the airport chaplaincy

Even to achieve this goal, our Pontifical Council promotes and organizes seminars and meetings at various levels, as on this occasion. Thus, chaplains can see the opportunities for lifelong learning.

Indeed, the chaplains themselves could hold conferences and seminars, maybe inviting the airport laity, religious and candidates for the priesthood so that they can themselves experience the reality of this ministry. Chaplains should invite their Bishops, the confreres and people more willing to spend a few moments in the chapel of the airport, either when they occasionally enter an airport or when they attend some special events.

I know that some chaplains had the idea to involve the faithful from neighboring parishes, asking them to animate the Sunday Mass in the chapel and, in this way, they got volunteers to the airport ministry.

Moreover, the airport often occupies a large area that the chaplain can hardly catch up with some frequency. If, then, we confirm the opportunity that a qualified person is always present in the chapel or in the office of the chaplaincy, it becomes even more important that chaplains try to form a group of volunteers, willing to spend a few hours during the week in the service of the chaplaincy. When, finally, the chaplains are not able to speak many languages, the presence of multilingual volunteers offers an indispensable help to resolve uncertainties and unexpected facts. Finally, it will be useful to urge all of you and the members of your chaplaincies to cultivate friendly relations with priests, religious institutions and the faithful from the parishes neighboring to your airport, so that they can help you and replace you during your absences. This, in fact, might even be a good way to identify those who, one day, will take your place as airport chaplains. In truth, many people, even priests, are afraid to set foot in a strange and unfamiliar place, like the airport. So, to introduce them gradually to the airport ministry is a fruitful way to ensure a successful and permanent ministry at the airports.

Fortunately, the airport is normally the place of human relationships, of conviviality and celebration, where one experiences the emotion of the meeting, or that of the first flight, or that of the pleasant conversation that fills the waiting time. Then, thanks to your work, many airports have become environments in which people experience the sacred, through the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments, through which they enter in the mercy and grace of God.


3. The chapel at the airport

This broad overlook leads us to consider the issue of the establishment of a dedicated chapel, an issue that has always been a challenge at the airport. Speaking of the World Day of Civil Aviation, on December 10th, 1991, in Rome-Fiumicino, the Holy Pope John Paul II said that “the spiritual heart of the airport, where Christ speaks intimately to people in silence, is the chapel.” Thus, the first element in choosing a place for the chapel should be the easy accessibility for all those who wish to pause in prayer, adequately indicated by conventional signs. In other words, the chapel should be visible and that, in many airports, it is a big deal – I know it from personal experience. In fact, sometimes you get a space, and not always easily accessible, only at the cost of so much perseverance and some suffering. Without saying that it is sad to realize that, at times, even the employees of the international airports, where the chaplaincy works for some time, are not able to say where the chapel is located.

I stress here that the ideal location of the chapel is in the space between the public area where everyone can stop and the area reserved only to those who have passed through border controls, with entrances on both sides, taking, of course, the necessary precautions to ensure adequate safety measures, such as a transparent wall between the two areas.

If there is a chapel in the airport, it is obviously expected that the Eucharist is celebrated regularly, at least on holidays. The Second Vatican Council teaches that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Incorporation into Christ, which is realized through Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the banquet of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Therefore, on Sundays and holy days of obligation, the Mass should be celebrated in the airport at least once, in order to allow the passengers faithful and the airport workers to hear the Word of God and take part in the Paschal Mystery.

It is true that one of the difficulties that Catholic chaplains have always faced, at least in some international airports, is to have a space for the preservation of the Blessed Sacrament, especially when the authorities who oversee the airport area only grant an environment that must be shared by all religions.

4. The shared space

In fact, the place reserved for prayer at the airport is increasingly an ecumenical chapel and, sometimes, even an inter-religious space. We cannot ignore this fact in the present circumstances, bearing in mind that, where there is no chance of getting a separate space for a Catholic chapel, the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism recommends that “consultations on this sharing take place between appropriate Catholic authorities and those of other Communions to seek out the possibilities for lawful reciprocity according to the doctrine and traditions of different Communities.”[5] In a common shared chapel, Catholics must certainly show a sincere respect for the traditions of worship of other Churches and ecclesial communities. These, in turn, are required to have the same respect for Catholic discipline. [6] This, then, is even more true when the space is shared with believers of other religions.

To this particular issues we can apply the words of the Holy Father Francis: “I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.”[7]

This is why we encourage you again to insist that there be a chapel or at least a place of prayer in the airport and that it be well marked with appropriate signs. The indication is already a testimony.


5. The chaplain

In addition to recommend the importance of the visibility of the chapel, it is also good to underline the great importance of the visible presence of the chaplain at the airport. If the chaplain’s mission is to witness Jesus Christ to the people at the airport, the best way to accomplish it is to be present in a visible manner. Also by the manner of dressing, every person should recognize the chaplain as a deacon/priest or as a lay Catholic chaplain. In fact, the grace of God can arouse in the heart of some people the desire to communicate with “someone” willing to listen, to understand and to deliver an encouraging word. Given the particular circumstances of those who pass through the airport or those who are employed in it, the presence and availability of someone “qualified”, right there, could be a unique opportunity for an encounter with God who heals and restores. We make our own the exhortation of the Holy Father Francis, who said: “The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”[8]

Whenever possible, we of the Pontifical Council try to visit airport chapels, to meet the chaplain and to share some moments of the pastoral work, also to understand the chaplain’s pastoral problems. And we believe equally important that chaplains, when they can, come to visit us in the office. In this way, our Dicastery keeps in touch with the chaplains not only during the seminars and this allows us to cultivate friendly and fruitful relations. Therefore we encourage you to cultivate this spirit of fraternal cooperation with us and with other chaplains, who may need suggestions, support and encouragement.


6. The XVI World Seminar

Dear friends, in these days we leave our usual activities, but do not neglect to contemplate this framework as a wide and varied mosaic. Indeed, we want to continue to look at our airports with the Gospel in hand. This meeting will help you to explore in depth your community airport, in order to discover its beauty and its problems.

These days of study will take place in four stages:

1. This afternoon we will hear the report of H.E. Msgr. Joseph Kalathiparambil on How the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” should be implemented in the pastoral care of civil aviation? His intervention will allow us to re-read together the pages of the Evangelii Gaudium looking for the items that are of specific support for the work of the airport chaplaincy.

2. Tomorrow morning, Thursday, June 11th, we will listen to Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who will speak on the topic: The importance of dialogue against religious extremism culture. In these times, religious extremism has become a serious concern for global security and a threat to the life of Christians in various parts of the world, especially in the Middle-East and Africa. Then, in order to give the right space to share our experiences, in the second part of the morning we will hear the report by the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains (NCCAC) of the United States of America; that of the European Secretariat of Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and that of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains (IACAC). These reports will help especially those who are here for the first time, since the seminar is also an opportunity for exchange and mutual understanding.

At 12:15 pm there will be a Mass presided over by Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò. Then there will be lunch at 13.00.

In the afternoon session we will have two interventions. We will listen first to H.E. Msgr. Ambrogio Spreafico, Bishop of Frosinone-Veroli-Ferentino, biblical scholar and rector emeritus of the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. His report will be titled: Evangelization: tool for pacification and credible testimony of a reconciled life. Each one of us, in one way or another, has had the experience of the Gospel which creates peace in the heart and helps to reconcile with others and with God. Then, it will be the turn of Mr. Vito Riggio, President of the National Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC), who will address the theme: Supporting the airport community in all its needs. You know better than anyone that the needs of the airport community should not be considered from only one point of view, but the various issues should be addressed together in a spirit of fruitful cooperation with the civil authorities airport.

In the second part of the afternoon we will gather in small Working Groups. For this job, you have already received some guiding questions to which you are required to answer: they were sent to you on good time so that you could prepare for this meeting already sketching some answers, as well as to facilitate the personal sharing, since this will be the only time dedicated to workshops.

3. Friday, June 12th, in the morning, at 7:45, there will be a Mass, presided over by Msgr. Kalathiparambil. Later, there will be the reports and the comments of the Working Groups. Then there will be an open debate on current issues related to the pastoral civil aviation and proposals presentation. Everyone, speaking freely, can say what issues concern the chaplaincy, and we may also share with others our good experiences. It will also be a way to help those participating for the first time in the seminary, so that we can better enter into the dynamics of the airport chaplaincy.

At 11.00 we leave for the audience with the Holy Father. At the conclusion of our seminar, we will hear Pope Francis who will confirm in the faith and mission that we carry out at airports on behalf of the Church, where the service of the Gospel commits us to witness to the love of Christ to all.

In the afternoon there will be the presentation of a draft of the final document of the work of these days and observations will be collected. When, then, the text will be finally settled, we will send it to you for a final vision before publication.

Finally, Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò will close this XVI World Seminar.

4. Saturday, June 13th, as it is a tradition of the Seminar, we will make a pilgrimage to Assisi to visit the places where Saint Francis lived. As you know, Pope Francis chose the name of this saint fascinated by his love for the Gospel, for the poor and for dialogue. In Assisi we will celebrate Mass in the Basilica Maggiore and it will be presided over by H.E. Msgr. Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi. In the late afternoon we will return to Rome.

I conclude with an expression of the Holy Father Francis that we can take as a particular pastoral program in our airport chaplaincies: “How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!.”[9]

At this point, I can only wish you to have a fruitful Seminar.



[1] Francis, Misericordiae Vultus. Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, no. 25 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html).

[2] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Catholic Civil Aviation Pastoral Directives, 1995 (http://www.pcmigrants.org/sectors/aviazione.htm), no. 8.

[3] Ibidem, no. 12.

[4] Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, op. cit., no. 15.

[5] Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, no. 106 (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_25031993_principles-and-norms-on-ecumenism_en.html).

[6] Ibidem, no. 107.

[7] Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, op. cit., no. 23.

[8] Ibidem, no. 10.

[9] Ibidem, no. 5.

(from Vatican Radio)