By Father George Agger SVD
There was a time–it almost seems long, long ago–when to travel by airplane was a social event. An occasion when one dressed up in nice clothes and enjoyed being pampered by airline hostesses and stewards–as seen in many of the advertisements. Alas, the days of extravagant travel are over, replaced by budget fares, crowded airports and long delays.
Nowadays, traveling by air is not an enjoyable event. It is more hassle and hurry, hurry and wait. Oftentimes one spends more time on the ground than in the air – as we queue up at the airline counter, queue at the security check, queue for immigration and then wait, sometimes for a considerable time to again queue up to board. Even on the short, 17-minute hop from the Caribbean island of Montserrat to Antigua, we spend four to five times more time sitting at the airport than in flying on the plane.
So what do we do with all that time on our hands? If you have nothing better planned, the duty-free stores, restaurants, wine bars, souvenir shops, bookstores and novelty shops will help you part with any loose change and maybe even tempt you to buy that bargain–which many times is more expensive at the airport than on High Street. Just think of what a cup of coffee or a bottle of water costs inside an airport compared to outside.
Of course, all this waiting can be put to good or valuable use. One sees many businessmen and women furiously working away on their laptops. Others seem content and happy, as they bury themselves in a good book, and the weary just try to grab 40 winks as they wait for the next leg of their journey.
But there is also something else one can do with this gift of time. Ever think of praying while at the airport? Seriously, praying while waiting around for your flight to be announced?
Are you aware that in most of the large airports of the world there is a chapel? Watch for signs directing you to a place of quiet and reflection amidst the hustle and bustle of the airport. Usually it is an interdenominational space–a quiet room with the holy books of the various world religions available to read. There, you will find the Bible, the Koran, praying mats and many other books that inspire peoples to turn to their God and draw strength and support from the one they worship.
Some time ago at Gatwick Airport in London, I had such an hour to pass by, and while I could not locate the chapel, I did take out my breviary–my prayer book–and began to pray. That prayer transformed the airport into a cathedral; it transformed the weary and anxious passengers into fellow human beings all created in the image and likeness of God. It changed the stranger into a brother or sister whom I had not yet met.
As I prayed, the passage from Ephesians 4:32 came alive to me as it never did before. Yes, I must have read that passage hundreds of times in my life, but there at Gatwick Airport, during an early morning, waiting for the Virgin Atlantic plane to take me home to Montserrat, it hit me as if I had never heard it before. It was telling me/telling us: “be kind to one another, compassionate forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
That message has remained with me, and hopefully I will be able to keep it alive, not just in my head, but by the way I live and treat the people I meet today.
Thank you, Gatwick, for awakening me afresh to the Word of God.
Father George Agger SVD is the only priest on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Born and raised in Cobh, an island off the Southern coast of Ireland, Father Agger served as the provincial of the Irish and British Province for ten years. He also has worked as a missionary in the Philippines and the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Editor’s Note: Want to see if the airport where you have a layover has a chapel or chaplain? The International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains offers a list of airport chapels/chaplaincies worldwide: http://www.iacac.info/index.php/iacac/airport-chaplaincies