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Airport Chaplains Minister to Busy Travelers especially at Christmas
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By Rick Vandekieft

Amid the crowds and chaos of the holiday travel season, you expect several mainstays at busy airports: security checkpoints where your purse or wallet, knapsacks and cell phones travel away in their own plastic bin to the X-ray machine. After security there are those tiny shops in the terminal offering mementos, magazines, and pricey snacks and this time of year, decorated in red and white and green and gold. You are aware of that distant airport aroma, that clash of scents of Taco Bell, KFC, New York Fries, Ciinnabon and Tim Horton’s Coffee making you either very hungry or totally diminishing any huger you had.

Yes, the larger airports are mini-cities with the shops, the restaurants, and even their own fire departments, and although surprising to some practically every international airport in the Western World also has chapels. These are typically tiny non-denominational spaces, in out-of-the-way locations. They offer an escape from constant gate change and security announcements and are staffed by 350 part- and full-time chaplains worldwide.

At Toronto's Person Airport the Aviation Interfaith Ministry (AIM) has been serving the airport community since 1979. AIM offers pastoral care to guests, airport and airline employees and their families while at Toronto Pearson. Evangelical Baptist and Roman Catholic chaplains lend presence to those seeking spiritual guidance, comfort and consolation.

The job is unlike other church assignments. There isn't a permanent congregation. No baptisms, weddings or funerals. Instead, airport chaplains preach to a crowd that is transient by nature.

Trust must be earned quickly. There's little time for small talk. Everybody is rushing to catch a flight.

AIM offers Holy Mass seven days a week as well as:
  • Outreach to travellers, airport and airline employees and their families
  • Prayer services for pilgrims, travellers and employees
  • Pastoral counselling, guidance and advice
  • Literature resources
  • Hospitality Ministry for Pilgrimage Groups
  • Terminal 1 and 3 Chapels with the Blessed Sacrament for spiritual silence, prayer, reading and meditation
  • Multi-faith prayer rooms available at both Terminals

On a regular day 2 or 3 of the team's 15 members of the clergy that share the Chaplaincy duties at Pearson will be at the airport. However, during the days leading up to Christmas, Christmas Day and for the few days following Christmas, there will be as many as 10 on hand at the peak times each day.

Looking for a spiritual connection increases dramatically at this time of year. Many will be dropping into the chapels for a quick prayer and reflection while others will need extensive time with a Chaplin to share the burden, the sorrow or the fear they are carrying. The majority of those visiting with the Chaplains on the floor of the terminals or in the Chapels are there to profess their faith and their love for Jesus Christ.

So, if you're caught in the maddening crowd of Christmas travel, keep your eyes open for a friendly touch of faith. With that seven-hour layover and snow delay, why not stop by the Chapel and visit for a while with the airport Chaplain?

You will be glad you did.