Pope Francis told a group of airport chaplains that their call is to be a sign of unity and mercy for the many different faces and cultures that come through airports, including undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. “The airport is a place of encounter for many people who travel, for work, for tourism, for other reasons; they are also points of transit for migrants and refugees, children and elderly, who need special care and attention,” the Pope said June 12. He made his comments to participants in the International Seminar of Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. The theme of the encounter was “Evangelii gaudium: A Support for the Pastoral Care of Airport Chaplaincy.” In his speech, Francis noted that there is a “troubling number of passengers without documents — often refugees and asylum seekers,” and lamented how they are frequently detained in airport premises “for long or short periods, sometimes without adequate spiritual and human assistance.” Due to the diversity of people and cultures who pass through airports, the chaplaincy is called to be a place of “unity in diversity” for all categories of people, he said. “As a big city, the airport is a cosmopolitan, multiethnic, and multi-religious environment and you, chaplains and members of the chaplaincy, are immersed in the life of this unique community,” he said, explaining that because of this, it is even more important for them to be work with docility and be “attuned” to the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis pointed to the image of the Good Shepherd as a model of how airport chaplains and those who work in the chaplaincy ought to care for the people in their ministry. He pointed to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist as particularly important for their flock, because it is in them that “the encounter with the infinite mercy of God opens unimagined paths of evangelization.” “To this day to proclaim the Gospel implies lifting people from the burdens that weigh on their hearts and on their lives; it means offering the words of Jesus as an alternative to the promises of the world which do not give true happiness,” he said. Francis continued, saying that in modern society the need to discover the compassion of God has become more urgent, and pointed to the Holy Year for Mercy as a “precious” time of grace to deepen in this compassion. He noted the “tragic situations” that have taken place with air travel, including various accidents and hijackings. Because of the serious effects these events have on the safety and the psychological state of people, chaplains are sought out by those who need “comfort and encouragement,” the Pope said. Francis concluded by encouraging the chaplains who work in these “special ‘border’ places which airports are,” to ensure there is space to both find and practice love and dialogue, “which nurtures fraternity among peoples and preserves a peaceful social climate.”
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