By Jessica Easthope
Beyond the doors of a quiet chapel at John F. Kennedy International Airport is the flurry and commotion of the fifth busiest airport in the country.
Sixty-one million people travel through here a year. Father Chris Piasta, the airport chaplain, says many of them, whether it be in their travels or in life, are lost and looking for direction.
“They’re looking for signs. They’re looking for something. That is the exact common denominator and in that sens, so much needed,” said Father Piasta.
But if one of those passengers in need flew into LaGuardia Airport instead, those signs are nowhere to be found.
“I have to take it upon myself, the chapel, and put it on my shoulders and walk through the airport because that’s where I’m going to meet people,” said Father Piasta. “Not necessarily in the chapel but it is a significant and important focal point.”
For a long time, Father Piasta, was saying Mass in an unused conference room at LaGuardia, but his last service was years ago. Since then, he’s been asking for an official chapel that all faiths can use, but his plea has fallen on deaf ears.
Father Piasta was told by LaGuardia Gateway Partners, the group in charge of the hub’s $4 billion-dollar redevelopment, that a chapel would not exist in the newly renovated airport. Instead there would be a “meditation room.” The only problem: no religious symbols or services allowed.=
Now Father Piasta refuses to be grounded. He’s bringing his pleas to the top – the CEO of Delta Airlines. It’s not just for Catholics, it’s for all believers.
“We would speak with not just one voice, but several individuals who not only know the need for that. But we know how much of a change it makes in the life of an airport,” he said referring to the group of religious leaders of all faiths who are gathering to make a pitch to the airport.
Both airports fall within the bounds of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Vincent LeVien, Director of External Affairs for DeSales Media Group, the communications and technology arm of the diocese, also reached out about the chapel.
“It’s an attack on religion,” said Vincent. “It’s crazy that we’re having this discussion in 2021 that they don’t think religion, any religion, is important at an airport and that we have to fight for our rights to have a chapel where, again billions of dollars was spent on this airport.”
Despite the obstacles, Vincent spoke with the directors of government affairs from Delta and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and says he’s optimistic about an outcome.
In the meantime, Father Piasta says LaGuardia’s travelers and airport workers are suffering. Everyone from victims of natural disasters to refugees stranded for weeks need faith and right now they’re all doing without it.
“You go to those famous airports all over the world, they have pools, they have golf courses,” said Father Piasta. “And I think that the spiritual level, it’s just as important as anything else.”