In the midst of the fast-paced Orlando International Airport, La Salette Father Robert Susann, provides a moment of peace and blesses a family from Puerto Rico before their departure. In the bustling airport he has only a short time with the travelers he meets each day, but as the only airport chaplain for the past 11 years, Father Susann knows the value of a moment.
"Airport ministry is a ministry of presence," he explained. "I bring Christ to the people whether its five minutes, 10 minutes, or just 15 seconds. People see the collar and know that Christ is with them."
Part of the tourism ministry of the diocese and supported by Our Catholic Appeal, the airport ministry brings the good news of Jesus Christ to Central Florida's visitors.
Walking through the terminals that see 38 million people each year, Father Susann shares Christ's peace with people of all faiths traveling for a variety of reasons and with wide-ranging emotions. In addition to celebrating two Sunday Masses in the airport chapel, he daily offers prayers, blessings, the Sacrament of Penance, a i mile and calming words.
"Christ welcomed everyone. It's an important ministry for the Church because the Church goes where the people are," he said. "The Church is made to bring Christ."
Editorial Postscript: In comments and reviews of Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s new book, A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law” (Chicago, 2014), insights are shared about Chaplaincy in large contemporary social settings:
• Most people in the United States today no longer live their lives under the guidance of local institutionalized religious leadership, such as rabbis, ministers, and priests; rather, liberals and conservatives alike have taken charge of their own religious or spiritual practices. This shift, along with other social and cultural changes, has opened up a perhaps surprising space for chaplains—spiritual professionals who usually work with the endorsement of a religious community but do that work away from its immediate hierarchy, ministering in a secular institution, such as a prison, the military, or an airport, to an ever-changing group of clients of widely varying faiths and beliefs.
• In A Ministry of Presence, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan explores how chaplaincy works in the United States—and in particular how it sits uneasily at the intersection of law and religion, spiritual care, and government regulation. Responsible for ministering to the wandering souls of the globalized economy, the chaplain works with a clientele often unmarked by a specific religious identity, and does so on behalf of a secular institution, like a hospital. Sullivan's examination of the sometimes heroic but often deeply ambiguous work yields fascinating insights into contemporary spiritual life, the politics of religious freedom, and the never-ending negotiation of religion's place in American institutional life.
• Michael Graziano, Professor of the course, Religion in American History: "Thought-provoking... Contemporary chaplaincy programs demonstrate that practices termed 'spiritual' are not unique to the political left or right, and chaplains from a wide variety of institutional backgrounds are grappling with how to provide this 'spiritual care.' A Ministry of Presence makes clear that this grappling has a particular history, and in so doing makes a valuable contribution to the study of American religion."
• Robert Orsi, author of Between Heaven and Earth: “...Sullivan shows that chaplains of all faiths in prisons, hospitals, and the military today find themselves at the nexus of forces that aim to make them into ‘priests of the secular,’ whose role it is to insure spiritually healthy and well adjusted prisoners, patients, and soldiers—as spiritual well-being is determined by the state and circumscribed by the courts. A Ministry of Presence is essential for understanding what has become—and what is becoming—of ‘religion’ in the United States today.
(Reprinted with permission of The Florida Catholic, Feb. 6-19, 2015)