The Vatican is bringing its faithful “nearer to heaven” with a new charter airline service designed to take pilgrims to holy sites everywhere, according to the London Times. Because the Vatican City does not have its own aircraft, it struck a deal with Mistral Air, an Italian cargo carrier, instead. The charter airline’s aim is to transport pilgrims between holy places. It is operated by the Italian Post.
The first flight took off from Rome on Monday, flying pilgrims to Lourdes, France.Officials expect an estimated 150,000 passengers a year will travel with the airline from seven Italian airports to destinations including Fatima, Portugal; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; the Holy Land; Czestochowa, Poland; and Sinai, Egypt, and in the future Mexico. The flights, scheduled to start regular service next year, conform to the pilgrims’ beliefs, with inscriptions such as “I search for Your face, Lord,” on the headrests, and religion videos shown on board. This prepares pilgrims for visiting sacred places so they can experience more profound contact with God.The Vatican earlier was reported to be concerned that its week-long preparatory train ride designed to give pilgrims a chance to get to know each other and to pray together might undercut the reflective character of the pilgrimages. The Vatican believes pilgrims should be prepared for visits to holy sites so as not to be thrust into realities they do not understand. Father Cesare Atuire, delegate administrator of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP), the Vatican organization for pilgrims, said the plane pilgrimage will meet Vatican objectives. The crew of the aircraft consists of people who specialize in religious pilgrimages. They are sensitive to listening and welcoming. They wear suits in blue and yellow.
Two charter jets are decorated in pontifical logos and painted with yellow and white, the papal colors This stems from the belief that the environment during travel to a sanctuary should prepare travelers for their destination.Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Benedict XVI’s vicar for Rome, who accompanied the first plane pilgrimage to Lourdes, seems to understand the changing times.”In the past pilgrims went on foot and train.
Now people are short of time yet need spiritual solace more than ever, ” he said. Chartered flights offer a good solution and a response to the demands of the faithful for a better use of their time.Jasna Gora in Czestochowa is among holy places to which Mistral Air will shuttle Catholic pilgrims. “It is a great thing. As soon as we finish the A1 motorway, the way from Pyrzowice airport to Czestochowa will take only 20 minutes instead of the present 35-40 minutes, which is also not so bad,” Czestochowa Mayor Tadeusz Wrona told Gazeta Wyborcza.
As many as 4.5 mln to 5 mln people a year visit Czestochowa. Foreign visitors increase every year. A special package deal is offered by WizzAir, the low-cost airline. The airline offers a trip to Krakow, the home of John Paul II, with a weekend stay in Czestochowa. It is offered for visitors from Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy travelling by WizzAir. The organizers provide accommodation in one of two optional hotels, sightseeing in Jasna Gora, mass in the monastery and cultural attractions in the city and region. Czestochowa authorities were also concerned about how to keep visitors occupied longer in the city. The shrine of Jasna Gora has been famous among Catholics for ages. It was re-discovered by Pope John Paul II, who never missed a chance to visit it during his pilgrimages to Poland.
It is also favored by current Pope Benedict XVI. It is because of him that there are more pilgrims from Germany visiting Czestochowa. Statistics from Jasna Gora friars show that about 16,000 Germans prayed before the marvelous shrine. Some 21,000 Americans and an ever-growing number of Italians, the main target of Mistral Service, also visited. More Italians are expected in 2008.