By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 1, 2023
ATLANTA—Travelers going through Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport now have the Blessed Sacrament to pray with.
And for the tens of thousands of workers at the world’s busiest airport, like Rudy Schlosser, it’s a place of refuge from anxious or angry flyers.
Schlosser is an airline gate agent, in addition to working with college students at the Lyke House Newman Center serving Georgia State University and the Atlanta University Center. If he’s working the weekends at the airport, he’ll attend Mass there.
Traveling can be stressful and if plans go wrong, people may take it out on workers who have nothing to do with the problem, Schlosser said. The chapel with the Eucharist present is a way for him to take a breath and refocus on tasks, he said.
“This is a time for peace. At any time, you are in the presence of God, you are receiving peace that you need working at the airport” he said.
Discreetly hidden behind a curtain when not in use in the Interfaith Chapel, the golden tabernacle with the reserved Eucharist is available for adoration for the tens of thousands of travelers and workers.
Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., blessed the tabernacle on Feb. 13.
“It’ll always be a place where people can come and talk and listen and simply just be in the presence of Christ, the risen Lord,” said the archbishop in his homily during a prayer service. “What a gift we are able to share with the people from Atlanta and all over the world in this international terminal.”
For years, deacons and priests have served the airport, where some 63,000 women and men work. The airport is used by more than 100 million passengers a year.
The presence of the tabernacle allows the archdiocesan airport chaplaincy to expand its services for Catholics. Mass is celebrated here twice a weekend, and now there will be communion services led by deacons during the week.
Spiritual services at the airport are organized by the Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy, Inc., a nondenominational nonprofit. In addition to a chapel in Concourse F, a second one is located above the atrium in the Domestic Terminal. It is open daily for individual reflection and prayer and has scheduled times each week for non-denominational Christian prayer and Muslim worship. A third chapel is on Concourse E.
The tabernacle is in Concourse F at the chapel overlooking the International Terminal atrium. It’s the last stop on the plane train. All flyers, international or domestic, can access the chapel if they’ve cleared security. Shared by people of all faiths, its walls are sparse with no crosses or other religious artifacts. A wall plaque points Muslims in the direction to face Mecca for prayer. Soon a plaque will invite Catholics to open the curtain to reveal the tabernacle.
Father Kevin Peek, whose father was an Eastern Airlines pilot, directs the Catholic presence with the chaplaincy, assisted by deacons.
He said the hope with the new addition is that “people will find time of hope and renewal here, that they will encounter the grace of God through the sacraments, and be empowered to live their faith, especially at their place of work.”
Father Peek said during time of travels people are more open to different things. Passengers may learn about the tabernacle or hear the announcement about Mass and “just be intrigued and just be touched and moved to spend some time in prayer here,” he said.
This project was in its design stage when he took it on. The priest imagined a tabernacle would be a good addition to replace the frosted glass in the chapel that fronts a storage area. He said the project to get the Blessed Sacrament at the airport required the approval of layers of oversight to make it a success.
His priority constructing the compartment was to have one both secure and reverent. A kneeler permanently was placed in front of the tabernacle. A wooden structure is custom built behind glass and the metal tabernacle is bolted. Father Peek said the wooden piece would last 100 years, if the airport still exists.
Chris Scharnhorst, a commercial pilot and a parishioner at All Saints Church, had an afternoon flight recently. He said there are a few airports around the country with tabernacles and the Eucharist, which he visits.
“I owe it to him,” he said about praying with Jesus.
If people make the time, an airport chapel is a great place to come and be quiet, he said.
For Schlosser, the opportunity to be in front of the Blessed Sacrament helps him be more grounded and attentive to the people he is serving.
“Every time someone is upset, you pray for them,” said Schlosser.