Friday, November 30, 2001

“O Spirit, whom the Father sent
To spread abroad the firmament
O wind of heaven, by thy might
Save all who dare the eagle’s flight
And keep them by Thy watchful care
From every peril in the air.”
from the hymn “Eternal Father Strong to Save”

Air travel isn’t what it used to be.
Airport chaplains around the country are reporting increased business since the September 11 terrorist attacks involving four American jetliners.
Yet jittery travelers seeking solace in the 36 U.S. airports that have either a chaplain, a chapel or both are finding them hard to reach. The Rev. John Jamnicky, a priest who heads the “human mobility apostolate” for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the airport-security restrictions have put some chapels out of passenger reach.
“People can’t get near these facilities,” he said. “For chapels outside security, passengers have to go through so much hassle [to] get into the secure area, they don’t want to leave it again. Since security has become an issue, these chapels have to be rethought.”
Plus, he adds, many chapels, such as the facility at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that is tucked behind a snack bar, are tough to find.
“They are not in the prime real estate of the airport,” he said, “nor in the highest rent areas. Airports are becoming such a stressful place for people just trying to get through all the security on time. If chapels are on the secure side and people have the time, they will go to them.”
As they are at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, reports the Rev. D.D. Hayes, who oversees 14 chaplains the country’s largest collection of airport clergy at the sprawling facility. Dallas-Fort Worth has four chapels, one in each terminal.
“People are more spiritually conscious of who they are these days,” he said. “They are more aware of the chapels and the chaplains are getting more people coming to them,” at least at the two chapels within security. The other two, which are outside security, get little traffic.
The Rev. Brett Jones, executive chaplain at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, says 150 people a day visited its out-of-the-way chapel before September 11. Since then, 170 drop by “and the people are staying longer and are interacting with the ministerial staff,” he said. “Before September 11, many folks walked in, looked around, maybe said a prayer, and then left.”
The Rev. Tim Tatum, a former Army chaplain who directs three full-time and two part-time chaplains at Washington Dulles International and Reagan airports, says interest is definitely up.
“We are finding at our chapel at Dulles, which is inside the secure area [in the new B concourse], usage is up,” he said. About 40 to 50 people come through in a given month for counseling or to pick up free Bibles and New Testaments. All the chaplains at both airports are Protestants, but visiting priests conduct Catholic Masses on weekends and Dulles hosts a Friday afternoon Islamic service.
“Many of the reasons people are traveling is because of a personal crisis,” he said, “such as a crumbling marriage or a deathbed visit. People don’t realize how many people traveling through our airports are in severe stress.”
International airport chaplains are seeing a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in traffic, said the Rev. Adrian Henning, head chaplain at the Johannesburg airport and senior vice president of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains.
“Folks seem more anxious than before and more than the usual numbers of passengers are coming for prayer and blessings,” he said.
“People are using whatever literature is available to them and are searching spiritually. Many are pessimistic and some are openly angry about the world situation and especially our economy, yet they don’t seem to find answers to their predicament and so turn to God for an answer.”
He and other chaplains also reported increased visits by airport and airline personnel, many of whom were being laid off.
“We been involved in some high-quality counseling helping people who are consumed with fear and helping them to turn to the Lord,” said Father Jamnicky, who is one of 50 U.S. Catholic airport chaplains. Ten of them are full time. Another 50 are Protestants.
Father Jamnicky estimates 1 percent of all airport passengers use a chapel.
The chapel at the Denver International Airport, which is in the main terminal outside security, made use of the public-address system to announce occasional Catholic Masses. A year ago, after one passenger complaint, airport authorities ceased the announcements. Now they post a generic announcement about chapel availability and instruct passengers to pick up paging phones to find out service hours.
“We said the announcements were just informational,” said Patrick Scully of the Catholic League, which protested the airport’s decision. “They were not an establishment of the Catholic faith, plus the other faiths could use the PA system, but chose not to. It did not compromise anything but the rights of Catholics to know about the Masses.”
Masses are announced at John F. Kennedy International Airport, which has four chapels, one each for Jews, Catholics, Protestants plus an interfaith room largely used by Muslims, in the new international air terminal. The Rev. James T. Devine, the Catholic chaplain, reports that U.S. Customs Service officials, as well as airport workers and travelers, drop by for “solace and peace of mind.”
Sometimes they drop by for a nap. One Web site,, touts chapels as the perfect spot for a cheap and legal place to catch a few winks or spend the night if stranded by bad weather.
But chapels are not what they used to be, said Viggo Rambusch, chairman and senior project director of Rambusch Co., which has designed and built airport chapels. But he is getting no commissions these days.
“They are all meditation rooms with much less character,” he said. “There’s just chairs. They can’t even put a cross in them anymore. So they end up being deist.”
The greatest chapel in his memory was Our Lady of the Airwaves at Boston Logan International Airport, built in the late 1940s and opened in 1951.
“There was a statue of the Virgin Mary there that got copied widely,” he said. “[The late] Cardinal Cushing felt the need for it and he promoted it. I think he paid for it. Boston was a Catholic town, so no one protested.”

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