Airport chapels offer spiritual uplift

Excerpted from “Flying on a wing and a prayer” Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal. © 2011 Dow Jones & Co., Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Licence #2647800128212. March 10, 2011

At least 140 airports around the world have designated chapels, and more than 250 have airport chaplains, according to the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, an ecumenical nonprofit organization. . . . Chaplains roam through airport train and tram stations, control towers, and gate areas.

“We’re trying to be where people are at and move with people,” says Rabbi Bennett Rackman, who works out of JFK and hosts lunchtime study programs for workers, leads prayer sessions for Jewish travelers, and offers blessings for youth groups about to depart to Israel. He believes JFK’s synagogue is the only airport synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. 

At JFK, four chapels sit side by side: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim. The location, on the fourth floor of Terminal 4, is outside security and well outside the mainstream passenger flow, but it still gets a steady stream of people who want to pray. The busiest chapel, JFK chaplains say, is the multifaith chapel now outfitted as a mosque, with prayer rugs and signs that point toward Mecca.

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