Unlikely places to worship and pray

Unlikely places to worship and pray

Many airports around the world have chaplaincy ministries which include daily or weekly Masses in chapels tucked away in their terminals. In fact, when I worked for Cardinal Dulles, I remember once reading a homily in his archives that he wrote for the dedication of the chapel at the airport in Washington named for his father, John Foster Dulles. When I am able, I often show up early enough for my flight, or stick around after landing, so as to be able to attend Mass in Chicago O’Hare, JFK, London Heathrow or Fiumicino in Rome.

There is a list of over one hundred such chapels involved in an international interfaith organization. (Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, PHL and ACY do not have such chapels. Perhaps someone reading this can petition to change that.)

Many of these humble worship sites are dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, the patroness of air travelers.

The Holy House of Loreto has a complicated history. Tradition holds that it was the house in Nazareth where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel, and Jesus lived as a child. When the Holy Land was lost during the Crusades, angels are said to have miraculously bore the house aloft first to Croatia, and then to various other locales in Italy, before ultimately bringing it to rest in Loreto on the Adriatic coast. While it is certainly not a revealed truth of Catholic faith that this story is historically accurate in every element, there very likely could be some veracity in the reports, as relics of all kinds were “translated” around the Mediterranean world. For instance, it is indubitable that St. Helena had many treasures shipped back to the center of the empire in Rome. And regardless of the roots of the tradition, the basilica which houses the humble building remains a spiritual place of prayer and veneration in the midst of the busyness of life, to ponder the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Holy Family.

Not too long after his election, Pope Francis contacted a group of young pilgrims walking on foot to the site in Loreto and used the language of flight so associated with this particular Marian devotion to encourage them:

“Do not be discouraged by those who are beaten down or are fearful and who want to dash your dreams, who want to lock you into their dark mentality instead of letting you fly in the light of hope! Please don’t fall into this mediocrity! A mediocrity that lowers us and makes us grey — but life isn’t grey, life is for betting on grand ideals and great things.

Negativity is contagious but so is positivity; desperation is contagious but so is joy: do not follow negative people but continue to radiate light and hope around you! And know that hope doesn’t disappoint, it never deludes!

Nothing is lost with God but without Him everything is lost; open your hearts to Him and trust in Him and your eyes will see his ways and his splendour (cf. Pr. 23:26).”

Air travel is for many Americans what horses and steam engines were to our ancestors, a means of radically shrinking the enormity of the world by covering vast distances more quickly and thus connecting us with others. (I have a colleague who commutes to Loyola from Texas, and claims that on certain days it’s at least comparable in total time to those in the further suburbs in Illinois). But we should always remember what is mentioned in the Psalm, that there is no where on earth or in the Heavens where we can outpace the love of God (Ps. 139). Next time you’re about to travel take a moment to recognize the pilgrim quality to all of life and to the presence of the divine even there, security lines notwithstanding.

Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.

Categories: Columns, Growing in Faith

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