Listed as the fifth busiest airport in the world, over 75 million people pass through Chicago’s O’Hare’s doors annually. This massive facility accommodates all levels of needs for people from all over the globe. And that means it also has a multi-faith chapel.
Though many airports have no place for worship or spiritual reflection, both Chicago Airports have active chaplaincies. Midway Airport is roughly half the size of the O’hare Chapel which can seat up to100 worshippers at a time. The O’Hare Chapel lists scheduled worship time for Catholic daily and Sunday masses as well as regular Protestant services. Friday evening, the chapel holds Islamic prayer. Recent articles have separately profiled the experiences of the full-time Catholicand Protestant chaplains. From these interviews, it is clear the airport chapel is both vibrant and vital.
One thing shared by all faiths is that the services are limited to 30 minutes. This accommodates the tight schedules for travelers, but it also works within the break times for airport staff and workers. But much of the work of the full-time and the many volunteer ministers is just to be present for anyone in need. They frequently meet with individuals or families traveling for a funeral or visiting a sick or stricken loved one. They connect with travelers stressed with schedule delays, missing critical events or family celebrations. These interactions may be sudden and often are brief. The five-minute counseling session is a common experience.
Rev. Mike Zaniolo, the Catholic chaplain at O’Hare says his job would be like that of a parish priest, going through the neighborhood ringing of doorbells of his flock and asking how he can help. He sees all airport workers and travelers as his flock. And when there’s a need he wants them to see him and say: “Hey, you know what, there’s a priest who’s got an airport badge. This is probably somebody I can talk to.”
The space is open and inviting. I would love to see how the area around the altar is set for worship other than Catholic mass. Unfortunately, the O'Hare Chapel is located outside the security gates. My layover gave me enough time to research the chapel, but not enought time to visit.
O'Hare Airport Chapel, is located on the Mezzanine Level of Terminal 2, outside security, Chicago, Illinois