Archive for the ‘violence’ Category
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In recent years, religion has come to be seen as a problem or a threat to national or international security. One strategy for countering religious extremism has been to attempt to banish faith to the purely private sphere. This is a big mistake, according to a report released Feb. 23 by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The report, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy,” was authored by a task force of 32 experts, ranging from former government officials, religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and scholars.
Currently, the authors of the report argued, the U.S. government does not have the capacity to fully understand and effectively engage religious communities. There have been improvements in the past years in recognizing the role religion plays in global affairs, but this process is still far from complete.
For better or worse, religion is playing an increasingly influential role in politics, the report observed. The trend to globalization along with new media technologies has facilitated the spread of extremist views. This is not about to go away, the report noted, and it urged the U.S. government not only to improve its knowledge of religious communities and trends, but also to develop better policies to engage believers.
It’s important to realize, the report commented, that religion is not some kind of a secondary human experience without any bearing on political developments and that we can therefore ignore. “Religion — through its motivating ideas and the mobilizing power of its institutions — is a driver of politics in its own right,” the report affirmed.
The report also warned against viewing religion solely through the focus of terrorism, as this would lead to overlooking the positive role of religion in dealing with global problems and promoting peace.
It’s also necessary to move beyond a focus just on the Muslim world and to take into account other religious communities, the report said.
While attention is often focused on the Middle East when it comes to the interaction between religion and politics the report pointed out that religion is a factor in many other countries.
China, for example, has a number of indigenous new religious movements such as Falun Gong as well as a rapidly-growing sector of legal and underground Christian churches and Muslim communities.
Buddhist monks have justified, and even promoted, conflict against Tamils in Sri Lanka, as well as marching against a repressive regime in Burma. Tensions between Christian and Muslims exist in Nigeria, and Indonesia, but also in European cities like London, Amsterdam, and Paris.
In India political debates are often influenced by different visions of Hinduism and the proper relationship of Hindus to other ethnic and religious communities.
The rise of Pentecostalism in Latin America and of Christian churches and preachers in Africa and Asia are other important religious developments that warrant attention, the report added.
And while religion has fomented bloody conflicts in countries such as Bosnia and Sudan, it has also promoted peace and forgiveness in South Africa and Northern Ireland. Alongside religious extremists there are other figures such as Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama, the report noted.
“The many examples of religious contributions to democratization and of religious leaders who help provide foreign assistance, implement development programs, and build peace are emblematic of how religion can play a positive role everywhere in the world,” the task force affirmed.
The members of the task force identified six principal patterns in the role religion plays in international affairs.
1. The influence of religious groups — some old and others new — is growing in many areas of the world and affects virtually all sectors of society.
2. Changing patterns of religious identification in the world are having significant political implications.
3. Religion has benefited and been transformed by globalization, but it also has become a primary means of organizing opposition to it.
4. Religion is playing an important public role where governments lack capacity and legitimacy in periods of economic and political stress.
5. Religion is often used by extremists as a catalyst for conflict and a means of escalating tensions with other religious communities.
6. The growing salience of religion today is deepening the political significance of religious freedom as a universal human right and a source of social and political stability.
In more concrete terms the report pointed out how these trends can present challenges in making policy decisions. For example, while the United States supports the spread of democracy, in some countries the introduction of popular elections could give greater power to religious extremists who often have anti-American views. So there needs to be a reconciliation between the promotion of human rights and democracy with protecting national interests, according to the task force.
The report also pointed out that the promotion of religious freedom as part of the foreign policy of the United States needs to be done in a way that is not seen as some kind of challenge by Western society on local religions or customs.
In dealing with religion’s role in public affairs the report advocated that the best way to counter extremism is through a greater engagement with religion and religious communities.
This means listening carefully to the concerns and fears they have and then entering into a substantive dialogue with them. At the same time it’s important not to overstep this dialogue by intervening in theological disputes or by trying to manipulate religion, the task force warned.
One of the most important things the United States must do, the report noted, is to learn how to communicate effectively. Therefore, in addition to listening to what religious communities are saying government needs to be more effective in presenting America’s own views. It’s also vital to keep in mind that actions often speak louder than words, so government policies must back up its media strategy, the report added.
Among the measures proposed in the report was the need to give a comprehensive instruction to diplomats, military personnel and other officials, on the role of religion in world affairs.
The report also recommended that the United States continue to promote religious freedom. “Imposed limitations on religious freedom weaken democracy and civil society, poison political discourse, and foment extremism,” the task force commented.
Religion’s role in politics was a theme touched upon by Benedict XVI in his Jan. 11 address to the members of the diplomatic corps.
“Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular,” he commented.
Echoing the views expressed in the Chicago Council report the Pontiff said that: “It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion.”
Such an approach, however, only creates confrontation and division, the Pope pointed out. “There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility,” he urged. A cooperation that will greatly benefit efforts to promote peace in the world.
Abolishing All Things Romanesque in France
By Elizabeth Lev
ROME, SEPT. 13, 2007 (Zenit.org).- George Weigel gave us the brilliant visual metaphor of France’s cultural dichotomy in his 2005 book, “The Cube and the Cathedral.” Looking out over Paris from La Grande Arche, the cube-shaped monument that houses the International Foundation for Human Rights, to the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, Weigel ponders two very different ideals vying for dominance over the cityscape.
Of these two worlds, so seemingly opposed, Weigel asks, Which is better suited to protect human rights and the moral foundations of democracy?
Weigel, however, wasn’t the first to ask such questions. Before either the cube or the cathedral even existed, the question of the Church’s role in France’s turbulent political landscape left a deep mark on country’s art and architecture.
After several summer vacations in that fascinating country, I was struck by the numerous manifestations of the powerful and passionate relationship between Rome and France, once known as “the eldest daughter of the Church.”
In the 11th century, a time of international awareness and political upheaval, Romanesque art blossomed. The Normans had conquered England and had extended French influence to unprecedented lengths by annexing Sicily and Jerusalem.
The First Crusades opened the road to the Holy Land, putting people in contact with hitherto unknown cultures. Pilgrimages multiplied exponentially, and Europe became a well-beaten track of polyglot travelers exchanging impressions and ideas.
But the glue that held this cosmopolitan world together was the Roman Church. All over Europe, while liberally employing individualized decoration drawn from Celtic design, Byzantine icons or even Islamic motifs, churches maintained uniform elements as a link to the churches of the early Christians of Rome.
Everywhere from Santiago de Compostela in Spain, to Cluny in France, to Monreale in Sicily, to Speyer in Germany, people prayed in unique spaces that nonetheless pointed to the leadership of Rome and the Successor of St. Peter.
Romanesque churches lack the drama of Gothic architecture. No flying buttresses mimic curling tendrils and no brilliantly colored glass bathes visitors in otherworldly light.
These churches display stability. Massive piers and rounded Roman arches anchor the buildings to earth. Like the Church established on Peter the rock, “the gates of hell shall not prevail” upon them. They seem as steadfast as St. Peter himself, ready to hold out until the end of the world.
Romanesque churches were the first to employ sculptural decoration in over 500 years. The portals and capitals of these basilicas are alive with stories of saints, dramatically reminding pilgrims to follow their examples.
Like the fourth-century Christian sarcophagi that inspired them, the sculpted reliefs of Romanesque churches engrave Church doctrine in stone. The Last Judgment, carved in harsh angularity and violent slashes on the door of St. Foy, not only reminds faithful of the inevitability of judgment, but also transmits the sobering fear of being held accountable for our sins.
The Chapel of St. Michael at Le Puy was built by French bishop Gotescalk after his return from a pilgrimage to Spain in 962. For hundreds of years, the stunning sight of the tiny chapel perched on a finger of lava rallied the faithful for pilgrimages and soldiers for the Crusades.
These churches proudly proclaimed their allegiance to Rome through their decoration and structure. During the years of the French Revolution, the revolutionaries destroyed many Romanesque churches because their solid presence formed a link with the Church of Rome, which was intolerable to the new government.
After studying in Italy in 1835, French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc began restoring Romanesque churches, and today a few of these glorious monuments still proudly proclaim an age when the world turned to Rome for guidance.
Exile and martyr
The Directorate of Revolutionary France did not limit itself to defacing Romanesque churches; it also struck at the papacy. The little town of Valence, amid its lovely gardens and spectacular mountain views, also preserves the heart of Pope Pius VI, who died there in 1799.
Many Vatican visitors smirk knowingly when faced with the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica, “It’s good to be the Pope!” But I doubt many would switch places with Pius VI, the humiliated exile who was eventually killed by the hardship of his imprisonment under Napoleon.
While much attention is paid to the more scandalous papacies of centuries past, we should recall the truly heroic witness of many of Peter’s successors. Pius VI was one such witness.
Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi from Cesena was elected Pope in 1775. Like Pope John Paul II, he was a young pope — elected at 58; he was also both handsome and athletic.
Similar to John Paul II, he traveled, and was hailed by contemporary poet Vincenzo Monti as the “Apostolic Pilgrim,” a precursor to the “Pilgrim Pope.” Pius VI journeyed to Vienna in 1782 to try to personally reverse the anti-papal policies instituted by Austrian Emperor Joseph II. He was the first Pope to travel outside Italy since Pope Paul III had visited Nice in the 16th century.
Pius VI avidly commissioned art and architecture and founded the Pio-Clementine museum, but his domestic successes could not stave off the international noose that was growing tighter around the Church.
The hangman would be Napoleon, the ruler of the new Republic of France who had turned his hungry eyes toward Italy. In 1796, Napoleon showed up with an army and a shopping list. He forced the Pope to sign the Treaty of Tolentino on Feb. 19, 1797, which demanded land, money and art.
Rome was declared the Tiburtine Republic, and Pius VI was deposed. A year later, 80-year-old Pope Pius VI, the 250th successor to St. Peter, was deported on the night of Feb. 20, 1798.
Weak and ill, Pius VI set out bearing witness to Christ’s words to St. Peter: “When you were younger, you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will” (John 21:18).
After three months imprisonment in Siena, unrest in Rome convinced the French to transfer the Pope. Officials planned to take him to the island of Sardegna, but instead, he was sent to the Certosa Monastery outside Florence.
Although plagued by gradual paralysis, the sickly Pope was then shuttled from Florence to France. City officials mocked him, isolated him, and even made him pay for his own deportation, but the faithful of each town found him to be a true father, offering prayers and blessings. One cold, rainy day in Tuscany, farmers left their fields to kneel in the mud for the Pope’s blessing.
As with St. Peter and St. Paul, even Pius VI’s jailers were moved by his forbearance. Captain Mongen, who had escorted the Pope as far as Parma, considered himself a true son of the revolution. But when it came time for him to take leave of the Pope he fell to his knees, kissing his foot along with the other priests and Catholic dignitaries.
Unlike the Avignon Popes who chose to make France their home, Pius was brought as a prisoner to his new nation. Pius VI finally arrived in Valence on July 14 (Bastille Day). Fearful of his presence, the Department administration prohibited any contact between the Pope and the people, especially the 32 priests under arrest for their loyalty to Rome.
Soon the administration ordered the “former Pope” sent to Dijon. The people of Valence, who had been secretly visiting and tending to the Pope, fought to keep the now-dying Pontiff with them.
Pius VI’s last days were spent in prayer. On Aug. 28, after he was given the last rites, the Pontiff spoke one last time, forgiving his enemies, and in the first hours of Aug. 29, he died.
Officials stored Pius VI’s body in the basement of his prison. His death certificate read: Giovanni Braschi, occupation Pontiff.
His successor, Pope Pius VII, brought the body of Pius VI back to Rome, but his heart was sent to the Cathedral of Valence to rest among the people who had loved him.
The gleeful directorate proclaimed the death of “Pius the Last,” but they were wrong. Pius VI’s correct epitaph is written on his tomb in St. Peter’s: “In sede magnus, ex sede maior, in coelo maximus” (Great on his throne, greater off it and greatest in heaven).
Mary and Matisse
The 20th century brought huge setbacks to religious art in France. While virtuous stories of classical heroes had already partially replaced biblical subjects during the Revolutionary era, the few remaining sacred themes were upstaged by fruit, nudes and water lilies.
Although the postimpressionists fought against what they perceived as the moralizing constraints of their Catholic legacy, many were simultaneously drawn to the challenge of following in the footsteps of monumental religious art.
Several “bohemian” artists took on at least one religious commission. Van Gogh, Chagall and Gauguin each brought his individual techniques to sacred subjects.
A mile outside Vence, a charming town perched in the mountains above Nice, Henri Matisse produced the Chapel of the Holy Rosary. This four-year project (1947-1951) was the artist’s only religious commission.
Born in 1869, Matisse had begun a professional career in law when he decided to follow his love of art. Painter Gustave Moreau brought the promising student into his studio where Matisse met Georges Rouault, who would become one of the greatest religious artists of his age.
In 1905, Matisse and Rouault founded “Fauvism,” a paganizing movement, which glorified intense sensation in art.
The two painters parted ways soon after. Rouault’s art embraced the sinful misery of the human condition, while Matisse rejected any form of suffering in his work.
Matisse achieved great success, making sculptures, paintings and even theatrical costumes. He eventually moved to Nice, drawn by the bright colors of the Mediterranean.
In 1941, an illness left him bedridden. His bright, painless world collided with the hard reality of suffering. In this difficult time, a Dominican sister nursed him, and her faith inspired the artist.
Matisse accepted the commission from the Dominican sisters of Vence in 1946 to decorate the Rosary Chapel. His old friend Picasso was horrified. “A church!” he cried. “Why not a market? Then you could at least paint fruits and vegetables.”
But Matisse dedicated himself exclusively to the chapel. He made hundreds of preparatory drawings and attached his brushes to long, light bamboo poles so he could paint the murals while in his wheelchair. He designed everything: the windows, the murals and even the chasubles.
The artist died in 1954, leaving the chapel as his last major work. “I built this chapel with the desire to lay bare my soul,” he wrote.
The Rosary Chapel makes a strange contrast to Romanesque architecture. Where St. Michel le Puy on its high perch is visible for miles, Matisse’s chapel blends in with the white houses nestled on the Vence hillside.
Sunlight pours into the chapel through tall narrow windows; and stained green, yellow and blue by the colored glass, it tinges the white walls with soft hues. Two naves of unequal length, one for the sisters and one for laypeople, meet the altar at oblique angles.
The wall decoration consists of figures outlined in black against a background of white tiles. The Madonna and Child grace the wall along the nave, while St. Dominic stands behind the altar.
Picasso scoffed that it looked like a bathroom, with its antiseptic atmosphere, but the simplicity of the chapel belies its complex origins. Matisse sensed and appreciated the universality that had characterized Christian art.
Like Romanesque relief sculpture, the sharp black brush strokes of the murals create dramatic energy. Islamic floral patterns in the stained glass interact with heavily outlined figures drawn from Byzantine icons recalling the cosmopolitan era of the 12th century.
Matisse’s fervor found its best outlet in his representation of the Stations of the Cross on the entrance wall. The images form a pyramid with diagonal lines leading the eye to the central image of the crucifixion.
Father Marie-Alain Couturier, his theological adviser, interpreted the harsh black lines as “letters written in haste, under the shock of some very great emotion.”
Father Couturier assisted Matisse in the preparation of the chapel and even posed for the figure of St. Dominic. Dominic is faceless, because Matisse wanted each person “to see him or herself reflected in the face of the saint.”
Even in the age where the secular had completely taken over art, Father Couturier and others valiantly endeavored to pull the new artistic geniuses back into the tradition of great Christian art.
From the Middle Ages to the Matisse era, the Church has managed to inspire great works and heroic gestures despite political turmoil and upheaval. In the millennium-old duel of the cube and the cathedral, the Church continues to rise to each challenge with faith, grace and beauty.
Interview With Chief Electoral Commissioner
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, AUG. 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Sierra Leone’s Aug. 11 elections were the first held there since U.N. peacekeepers left — and they did not reignite an 11-year-old war that plagued the country since 1991.
Sierra Leoneans are now awaiting a Sept. 8 runoff between the leading two presidential candidates after none of the seven contenders won the needed majority in the Aug. 11 elections. There have been scattered reports of violence and a curfew is in effect.
And the outgoing president announced today that he could invoke emergency powers to avoid further clashes between rivals’ supporters. Yet, there is hope that the successful elections earlier this month are a sign of the West African nation’s progress in returning to the civilized world.
At the center of it all is Christiana Thorpe, the chief electoral commissioner.
She first came to public attention as the minister of education. Thorpe introduced a new educational system and later distinguished herself as an advocate for the promotion of women and the education of girls.
Moreover, Thorpe is a fervent Catholic who attends daily Mass.
In this interview, she tells ZENIT that God is the indispensable factor behind her success.
Q: What do you make of your appointment as the chief electoral commissioner, being the first woman to have ever held that position?
Thorpe: I take it as a challenge, and every day I try to live up to its requirements.
Q: What challenges have you met and what successes have you achieved?
Thorpe: Elections, for many people, are just a matter of going to cast their votes.
But that is not all. Casting of votes is just the end of a series of activities and engagements.
To have the elections, boundaries have to be set, a census conducted, voter registration carried out with the lists thoroughly verified and voter education carried out.
There is also need to train people to professionally conduct the elections and equip the polling.
The candidates who are going to be voted upon also need to be nominated, accredited and they need the campaign time to convince voters. All of that preparation takes a lot of time. This demands a lot of work.
We’ve done everything to meet up to international standards.
We are coming from the war and we need international assistance to move forward in a lot of things.
So if the elections were not of international standards, we would not get the aid and assistance that we are looking for.
Q: What can you say about the political maturity of Sierra Leone?
Thorpe. We are coming into it. There needs to be a lot of voter education in all that concerns the electoral process.
Even after elections and before elections, measures should be put in place. And the commission is ready to do that, to continue to educate people on what the democratic process is about.
The democratic process is not about violence, it is not about abusive language, it is not competition in the unhealthy sense of the word. [It is] choosing people who will lead us and who will lead us within the international circle so that we, too, could be counted as a civilized nation.
Q: You will be remembered for promoting women’s rights. Why has this been such a great priority in your life?
Thorpe: Because I was always interested in women’s and girls’ education since I was a child. I think God has been directing the path I would follow.
Wherever I have gone, [I’ve worked on] issues of development, issues of handicapped people, especially that of women and girls.
And since I have a natural flare for teaching — education in general — I have enjoyed passing on information. I like to have people becoming enlightened on whatever the issue. I think I am at my best in that field.
Q: The Forum for African Women’s Education has been a success story in Sierra Leone. How did it all start?
Thorpe: I started with FAWE in 1995 when I was minister of education, and I attended the conference in Geneva where I met the FAWE executive members from Nairobi.
They introduced the idea. Basically it was to get women throughout Africa to become educated. The rate of illiteracy at that time in Africa was 70%.
I saw that the ideals they espoused coincided in with my interests and so I jumped at the opportunity.
When I came back in March, 1995, I was able to get like-minded women — 21 of them, and we started the work of establishing the organization.
It has been very successful, especially useful during the war when we were able to come to the assistance of thousands of girls who has suffered brutally in the carnage.
With women who were violated, there was need to help them keep their heads above water and to assure them that they can start life all over again, despite all these difficulties.
Considers Possible U.N. Sanction of Moratorium
VATICAN CITY, AUG. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- In a 13-page report, the Fides news agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples takes a look at the death penalty, calling it “cruel and unnecessary.”
“Love Your Enemies: How States Take Lives” includes an overview of the methods that nations have used in recent years to inflict death, a list of those countries that allow the death penalty. The report also includes an interview with a professor from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and one with a spokesman for the Community of Sant’Egidio.
The document raised questions regarding the use of the death penalty on minors and detailed information on the innocent who are erroneously condemned to death.
A section on 2006 statistics said that “a total 128 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, whereas 69 countries still maintain capital punishment in force, but executions are carried out only in very few countries.”
“In 2006, 91% of all reported executions happened in six countries; Kuwait has the highest number of executions per head in the world, followed by Iran,” the report stated.
According to the Fides agency, “thanks to international mobilization in recent years, of individuals, nongovernmental organizations and certain governments — with an increase in the number of abolitionist countries — in 2007 the United Nations could decide to adopt a resolution to sanction a universal moratorium on the death penalty, in view of its eventual abolition.”
The document refers to words from Pope John Paul II, including a speech during his visit to the United States on Jan. 27, 1999, where he said: “Modern society has the means to protect itself without denying criminals the opportunity to redeem themselves. The death penalty is cruel and unnecessary and this is true even for someone who has done something very wrong.”
The report also includes a reference to a United States bishops’ conference 2005 report: “When the state in our names and with our taxes ends a human life despite having nonlethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence. The use of the death penalty ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those who are executed, but for what it does to all of society.”
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.