Our Lady and the Airport Chaplain

Editor: Mindful of our own La Salette, Fr. Bob Susann, ministering at the Orlando International Airport, we share a presentation by Fr. Michael G. Zaniolo, STL, President of the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains given during the XIV World Seminar for Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains on April 11, 2010.
Untitled-1Fr. Bob Susann, M.S., Chaplain for Orlando International Airport
Nazareth is a central point of reference for the Blessed Virgin Mary in the unfolding drama of our salvation in Jesus Christ. It is also, as I hope to demonstrate, an inspirational and formational resource for the mission, ministry, and life of airport chaplains and pastoral agents…

In Mary’s journey, Nazareth is a place of departure. From Nazareth, Mary goes to Elizabeth her cousin. From Nazareth, Mary goes with Joseph to Bethlehem and even to Egypt. From Nazareth, Mary goes with Jesus and Joseph to Jerusalem.

From Nazareth, Mary goes to follow her son in his public ministry. In her life story and in her journey of faith, the holy house of Nazareth is truly a point of departure. That same place is a point of arrival. She returns to Nazareth from Egypt. She returns to Nazareth from Jerusalem. Whether she departs or arrives, this holy place where the Word was made flesh becomes a center, a focal point of her journey and pilgrimage of faith…


Encounter and Welcome, Growth and Formation 


Saint Luke writes: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” (Luke 1:26-27a) A heavenly visitor, a messenger of the Most High God, is sent to the house of Nazareth. Mary receives that visitor, the angel of the Lord, and welcomes him. Mary experiences some fear and some hesitation rooted in not fully understanding the purpose or the greeting that opens this encounter. Still, she meets and welcomes the angel, listening attentively to the message that he brings to her…

Untitled-2by Fr. Michael G. Zaniolo, STL, CAC, President of the National Conference of Catholic Airport ChaplainsIt is also the place where the Incarnate Word, in his humanity, grows and experiences formation in that sacred humanity… The years in Nazareth enable a time of maturing, ripening, and unfolding which bears much fruit in the public ministry of Jesus and, ultimately, in the holy mysteries of his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Nazareth is the place where God’s redemptive vision is revealed. What the angel quietly announced to Mary in the holy house now becomes a public proclamation, indeed, a proclamation destined to reach the whole world and all humanity.


A Place of Struggle and Poverty


Nazareth itself, made holy by the Incarnation of the Word, is also a place where the struggle with sin and evil is enacted… At the beginning of his public ministry which begins in Nazareth, there is an anticipation of how his public ministry will end in Jerusalem—with rejection and a violent death.

Nazareth… is also a place of struggle where forces of evil and human sinfulness meet the holy one of God who will ultimately vanquish them.

Mary, who embodies the poverty and vulnerability of the place… is young, a girl, poor (and) without a man. God, however, favors the poor who place all their trust in him. And God favors Mary, indeed, makes her full of grace… embedded in this ordinary place is the extraordinary drama of salvation that unfolds, beginning with Mary’s Fiat... In this ordinary town,,, the destiny of humanity is shaped.


Our Lady in the Life and Ministry of Airport Chaplains


Untitled-3To those who know and have read the signs embedded in the airport and the experience of travel, it is not simply a matter of motion. There is movement, that is, motion with direction.

Each traveler and each worker involved in departing and arriving, in coming and going, embodies a precious life journey, a movement that finds its ultimate orientation and direction from God and in God. It is the mission and ministry of airport chaplaincies to affirm and hold that reality: in the motion of arriving and departing, there is the deeper movement of life journeys into God…

(Like) the holy house of Nazareth, our chapels in airports… are places of quiet and rest, where travelers and workers can—even if for a little while—make themselves attentive and available to God.

We who serve in airport chaplaincies do so often as the “poor relations” in the airport community… we have—in our poverty—a simple thing to offer: we meet and welcome those who come to the airport to travel or to work. We acknowledge their dignity and value. We affirm the preciousness of their lives. And we say—sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly—that they are loved by God and precious in his eyes.

Airport ministry creates an arena in which growth and formation in the Christian life can take place. Those who serve can foster a spirit of kindness, compassion, reconciliation, justice, and love among those who pass through the airport or those who work there… The work of growth and formation is God’s work, no doubt, because all is grace. Still, God asks his ministers to collaborate and cooperate in the work of grace by holding before all people an invitation to new life, to growth and formation.
Untitled-4Orlando International Airport
…In countless ways—in the celebration of the sacraments, in preaching, in prayer services, in counseling, in words of encouragement, in simple greetings along the way—those who serve in airport ministry remind those whom they serve of the holy purpose or mission of their lives… It is an invaluable gift that we give to others: to let them know that their lives and work have a purpose that may have been beyond their reckoning or imagination…

In Mary, we can retrieve the solid foundations of hope and confidence that undergird our mission and ministry in the airports. These allow us to stand firm and to encourage those whom we serve. With Mary 

Untitled-5Madonna of the Book by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)

and her son who accompanies us, we will not deny the presence of struggle nor will we allow ourselves to be overcome by the forces of evil and sin that still infect this world. When the shadows of terrorism and exploitation and human trafficking and unjust labor practices and pure greed threaten to take hold and dominate our situations, we stand firm.
…in the airport ministry we strive to remind everyone that what seems commonplace is blessed by the presence of God, that what seems ordinary and unremarkable is blessed by extraordinary possibility, that what could easily pass by our notice is deeply loved by God.

When we contemplate Our Lady (at) Nazareth, we find ourselves drawn to single and simple focus: God is with us, God accompanies us… We know for sure the presence of Mary, the Mother God and our mother. Clearly, we see her in our daily ministry and service and in the faces of those whom we serve.

We see that “she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God” (Lumen Gentium, #68).

(Reprinted with permission from MCCAC site)