Demand higher, but access more difficult for airport chapels after attacks

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Hans Holthausen stepped into the amber light and quiet of the chapel at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, taking a moment for peaceful reflection before flying back home to Munich, Germany.

''When I am in a busy city, with all the things going on, it is nice to find a place to calm down and gather your ideas,'' he said.

According to the Rev. John Jamnicky, coordinator of ministry to travelers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, airport chapels receive thousands of people each day who, like Holthausen, stop in for a visit before traveling. Their ranks have been swelling since Sept. 11, Jamnicky says.

But another effect of the attacks -- increased security -- has made it harder for people in many cities to reach the chapel, whether it's in a public area of the airport or beyond a security checkpoint.

There are 35 airport chapels in the United States and another 100 or so scattered around the world, Jamnicky said. Many began as gathering places for Roman Catholic travelers or airport workers but are now open to people of all faiths.

''Many people feel the need for some strength to deal with the fears and threats,'' Jamnicky said.

As at Hopkins, the chapel at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport is outside the security area, which the chaplain there says makes it harder for passengers to visit.

''People have a tendency to want to get through security and at that point they have a lot of terminal time on the other side of the security gates,'' said Rev. Chester Cook, a Methodist minister.

Cook is talking with airport officials about the possibility of including another chapel in the expansion plans for Atlanta's international terminal. But he and other airport clergy acknowledge that airport space is premium property for retail or other for-profit activity, and airports may be reluctant to give additional space to nonprofit chapels.

Even if they did, Jamnicky said, few churches have the resources to staff a second location. Many airport chapels have only part-time staff or clergy of various faiths on call.

At Hopkins, there have been requests to move the chapel -- from passengers who say they're anxious to get through security, then find themselves unable to use the chapel.

Airport Commissioner Fred Szabo said Hopkins will re-evaluate what to do when the Catholic church's dollar-a-year lease expires on the space.

''It's a matter of where the real estate exists,'' he said. ''There is more unused space pre-security than post-security.''

The Rev. Michael G. Zaniolo, director of the chapels at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports, said the new security procedures have created problems for both passengers and airport visitors.

Zaniolo, a Catholic priest, said that it makes the most sense for the O'Hare chapel to be available to the many passengers moving from gate to gate but ''because we are on the land side (or public side) at O'Hare it is more convenient for people who don't have to go through security -- people from the neighborhood and people who drop off passengers.''

At Midway, the chapel is on the gate side of security.

''Because Midway is right in the middle of a neighborhood, a lot of those people use the chapel. They would love to have the chapel on the land side'' because they can no longer get through security without a ticket, Zaniolo said.

The Rev. Jack Fitzgerald, who runs the chapel at the Pittsburgh International Airport, said attendance has increased since Sept. 11 but the growth has been limited because his chapel also is inside the secure area.

''If we had the people who were coming in to pick up and drop off passengers, attendance would be up by a factor of two or three,'' he said.

Those who use the chapels, wherever they're located, appreciate them.

Ed Wilkins, who lives in Lorain just west of Cleveland, has stopped by the Hopkins chapel regularly for 20 years.

''When I am picking up a passenger, I come a little early, and in the idle time I usually stop in,'' Wilkins said. ''Or when I depart -- especially when I depart -- I want to say a prayer.''

End Advance

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