On Fighting Terrorism in Airports

Interview With Aviation Chaplain President

ROME, JULY 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Church has an important role in the fight against terrorism, and airport ministry is one way to help, says the Protestant president of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains.

In this interview with ZENIT, Reverend Andrea Krasznai speaks about the unique ministry found in airports and the service it offers to the Church. 

The Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers recently organized the 13th International Seminar for Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members. The theme of the conference was “Dialogue in Airport Chaplaincies as an Answer to Terrorism.” 

Q: Terrorism is at the center of the discussions of the conference, and the answers airport chaplaincies have to offer. What are the various aspects of this question you are observing at the conference? 

Krasznai: At the conference we searched to understand the vital role the Christian churches can play in fighting terrorism and dialoguing with Islam. Insecurity and terrorism motivate us to look for new attitudes to render life livable. For this to happen, we need to revive our own tradition and wisdom by revitalizing its essence — both secular and religious. 

Q: Which ideas would you highlight from the speeches as important and useful insights? 

Krasznai: Keynote speakers gave insights into terrorism and sought answers in this difficult field. The outstanding in-depth speech on evil, given by Archbishop Angelo Amato was greatly appreciated, along with Cardinal Paul Poupard’s presentation on “Interreligious Dialogue to Counter Terrorism.” […] 

Both Father Ryan and Father Michael Zaniolo, president of [the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains] and chaplain ofChicago O’Hare Airport, approached the subject from the viewpoint of experienced chaplains. Thus their words were particularly insightful. […] I must mention the great work and valuable thoughts and comments of Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, who presided over the conference. 

Q: What are the efficient responses to the frightening phenomenon of terrorism? 

Krasznai: If only I knew the answer to this question. There have been various attempts to eliminate terrorism — military, political, diplomatic, economic and sociological. It is clear, however, that military and political efforts to bring peace to our troubled world have not brought about the desired result. I believe that the Church has a significant role to play in this respect. 

Q: Where would you place interreligious dialogue in this context? 

Krasznai: Before we initiate an in-depth dialogue with Islam, [we have to have] a clear distinction between Islam and Islamism. Islam is both a religion and a culture. Islamism is a political ideology that has two branches, one structural, which is peaceful; the other is militant, jihadist and terrorist. Terrorism is not identical and synonymous with the Muslim or Arab world. 

As guardian and promoter of European and Christian values, the Church can play a unique role in communicating with Islam. It is an organization without alternatives in promoting the Gospel, with a mission to work for peace. The Church with its rich cultural heritage has an important role to play in building European identity, and promoting and communicating European values. 

This is the reason I approached the issue of terrorism from the standpoint of bolstering European identity in my presentation. I described the nature of terrorism and the changes in its targets and objectives. I wrote a brief chronology, listing the most significant attacks against the aviation industry. 

Q: What are the challenges and problems airport chaplains face in their everyday work? 

Krasznai: There is a worrisome deficit in European and Christian identity, which has created a vacuum. In December I met many people going on the Hajj who came to the chapel in Ferihegy to pray. To my surprise, one of the pilgrims who was Hungarian asked whether it was not possible to take the cross from the altar? “This is a Christian chapel and the cross cannot be removed,” I replied.

Growing numbers of young people are no longer satisfied with the consumerism and the licentiousness of our postmodern world. Human beings search for deeper values, rules and laws, which they can take seriously. Islam seems to attract many young people. 

Airport chapels have a strategic importance in communicating European and Christian values. While being sensitive to the religious diversity of people who work in and travel through airports, we must pay special attention to preserve the Christian or interreligious character of our chapels. Our aim is to share the Gospel and meet people at the point of their need. The ministry originates from Christ’s words, “I was … a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

Travelers are often afraid to fly — airport ministry provides a space of welcome and offers time for prayer. Our ministry can best be described as a “ministry of the moment,” and these moments are precious since passengers are usually pressed for time. 

Q: In your view, has the service of chaplaincies extended in the past decades or is there less interest from travelers? 

Krasznai: At the conference I represented the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, which is a worldwide organization. The spiritual wealth of the various Churches and traditions have made our association a colorful and lively international family. I believe that in the fast-moving world of aviation, IACAC can make a real difference for the global benefit and well-being of humanity. I believe that our ministry has brought back many people to the Church. 

The first airport chapel was open to the public at Logan International Airport, Boston, more than half a century ago, in 1950. IACAC nowadays numbers 170 chapels all over the world. Approximately 360 chaplains work at airports. There are many more volunteers. Let numbers speak for themselves. Our visitor books are filled with precious comments and prayers. As an ever-increasing number of people travel by air, a growing number of passengers seek our ministry.

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