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Airport ministry, or the Civil Aviation Apostolate, is an expression of the Catholic Church’s concern for pastoral care of people on the move. The Civil Aviation Apostolate includes all the faithful in the world of aviation who “cannot enjoy sufficiently the normal ordinary pastoral care of parish priests or are completely deprived of it” (Decr. Christus Dominus n. 18). Airport ministry is the pastoral care of persons who travel, those who assist them and others—passengers, airport and airline personnel, visitors, and the homeless and refugees.
The first airport chapel was established in 1950 in Boston at Logan International Airport by the late Cardinal Cushing. Shortly afterward, in 1951, a chapel was opened in New York at Idlewild Airport, now called John F. Kennedy International Airport. From these humble beginnings arose 65 airport chapels in 30 nations. Just like the world of aviation, airport chaplaincy is growing quickly.
Not all major airports in the United States have chaplaincies. However, pastoral services ranging from full parish activities to simply a ministry of presences are offered in the present chaplaincies. Airport chaplaincies are established by the bishop of the (arch)diocese in which the airport is located. Each chaplaincy is different because of limitations of space, funding, and availability of qualified personnel according to the local situation.
Dedicated men and women, airport chaplains are the delegates of the diocesan Church for the world of aviation and its users. Where possible, opportunities for sharing in the Sacramental life of the Church are provided through the celebration of the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick. In addition, where possible, qualified counseling, interfaith outreach, and pastoral assistance in times of disaster are provided. These services are available to everyone who uses or works in airports.
Under the auspices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, an organization of airport chaplains was established in August 1986. The mission of the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains (NCCAC) is “to be a spiritual and theological source whose purpose is to teach and witness (to) the Word of God and to serve His People by fostering their growth and renewal through prayer, study and Catholic service for airport personnel and travelers” (NCCAC Constitution).
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