Airport chaplains gather in Rome

VATICAN CITY - Airports are places where even a brief encounter with a kind and welcoming chaplain can have a big impact on leading a person to Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Addressing the World Seminar for Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplaincies at the Vatican June 11, the pope said airport chaplains meet people from many nations, cultures and religions. They may come across immigrants and asylum seekers desperate for a new life. And they meet many people stressed out because of the demands of travel schedules and security measures.

"Be assured that even in chance encounters, people are able to recognize a man of God, and that often a small seed falling on good soil can bring forth abundant fruit," the pope told the chaplains - about 100 priests and assistants working at three dozen international airports in 15 countries, including Father Philip S. Majka, a priest of the Arlington Diocese who serves as the Catholic chaplain at Dulles International Aiport.

The chaplains minister to airline pilots and crews, ground staff, airport police, customs and security personnel, medical and paramedical staff, anyone working at the airport and, of course, to passengers.

During the Vatican seminar June 11-14, they were to discuss ideas for promoting evangelization, and hold discussions with Vatican officials involved with ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, and with a representative of the aviation section of the International Transport Workers Federation.

Pope Benedict told the chaplains that the constant mobility and technological development that mark airports and work in the aviation field mean that efficiency and productivity can be emphasized to the detriment of relations between people and solidarity with those who are hurting.

In such an environment, he said, the chaplain's presence "is a living witness to God who is close to human beings and it serves as a reminder never to show indifference to those one meets, but to treat them generously and lovingly."

"Dear friends," he told them, "make sure that every person - of whatever nationality or social background - can find in you a welcoming heart," capable of listening and understanding.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970