Airline workers and travellers flying through the busiest airport in the world can now spend time in the real presence of Christ thanks to the efforts of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s chaplains and the cooperation of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer of Atlanta dedicated and blessed his archdiocese’s newest chapel while on his way to catch a flight Monday.
Located in the international terminal, the eucharistic chapel will be a permanent fixture at the airport and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
After receiving approval from the archbishop, the tabernacle was installed in November of last year. But because only travellers and airline workers can get past security to access the chapel, the archbishop was not able to officially bless it until this Monday, shortly before his flight departed.
The chapel was sorely needed and perfectly located given the sheer number of people arriving from all over the world to make connecting flights, chaplain Father Kevin Peek told CNA.
The Atlanta airport sees an average of nearly 300,000 passengers flying through daily, according to Business Insider.
“There’s about 64,000 employees at the airport at any given time,” Peek told CNA. “That’s like a small town or city.”
The chapel has already touched many lives, allowing them to encounter Christ in the most unexpected place, Peek said.
Since the eucharistic chapel opened, Peek has already seen visitors weeping and even jumping for joy to find the presence of Christ in the airport.
The chapel allows airline workers and travellers to “bring Christ out into their lives and into the world,” Peek said.
One of the greatest parts of having a eucharistic chapel, Peek explained, is that it allows the airport’s three other Catholic chaplains, who are deacons, to offer Communion services when a priest is not available to say Mass.
“I go out there and offer Mass on Saturday night and Sunday night for all the travellers in order to give them two opportunities to make their Sunday obligation. But I can’t get down there every day,” Peek explained.
Now the deacons hold Communion services at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, while Masses are offered at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Blair Walker, head of the Atlanta Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy, worked closely with Peek to make the idea of a permanent eucharistic presence at the airport a reality.
Because it is an interfaith chapel, Walker explained, the airport chaplaincy staff had to get creative in designing the space.
“The space is designed for shared sacred use,” Walker told CNA, “so we don’t want any one thing in there that overpowers the faith groups that are using it.”
Multiple design ideas were proposed but didn’t work out. Finally, one day while Peek was reflecting in the airport chapel, he realized an area being used for storage that was covered by frosted glass could be used to house the Eucharist.
“We realized, ‘Oh, we can remove the frosting off it,’” Walker said.
Now just behind the cleared glass is a tabernacle and a lamp to signal Christ’s presence.
The final design of the chapel serves the dual purpose of keeping the interfaith sense of the space while also protecting the Eucharist from any who would potentially abuse it.
For Peek, whose father, Joseph Peek, was an airline pilot, the project became a labor of love.
“I did it really for the airline personnel,” Peek said. “My dad was a commercial airline pilot and flew out of Atlanta for many, many years. He had a great devotion to Our Lord in the Eucharist.”
In the chapel’s sacristy area, Peek placed a few pictures of his father, one of him with his mother in front of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, another of him at the helm of a Boeing 727, and another shows his father giving Peek Communion.
“I put all that there kind of as a statement to summarise how much he incorporated faith and family into his life and in his work, and to inspire other aircrew to do the same,” Peek said.
(Catholic News Agency)