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A haven of calm amidst the bustle of the airport

In “Five questions for…”, we talk to Claudio Cimaschi, co-founder and joint head of the chaplaincy at Zurich Airport, about his relationship with flying, why pastoral care at the airport is important and how he makes a difference.

What is your role at Zurich Airport?
To offer pastoral care to everyone. Employees of all the businesses at Zurich Airport, passengers, asylum-seekers and visitors come to us if they are having personal problems, are struggling with life or are simply seeking advice and words of comfort. We also hold regular religious services and, on Wednesdays, midday prayers that are open to all. The airport chaplains also coordinate the 100-strong team that makes up the Airport Care Organisation, which is trained to offer emotional support to victims and their relatives in the event of a major disaster.

How did the chaplaincy at Zurich Airport come about?
It was more than 16 years ago. After working for 13 years as a travelling salesman and air traffic employee, I started studying theology and then worked as a priest in a small community. By chance, I read several articles about airport-based chaplaincies and I was very taken with the concept. When I talked to a priest friend of mine, he said: “You’re heaven-sent! We’ve been planning to set up a chaplaincy at Zurich Airport for a long time, but we haven’t been able to find a Catholic priest with airport experience.” That priest was Walter Meier, with whom I’ve had the honour of running the airport chaplaincy since 1 February 1997.

What do you like best about Zurich Airport?
The small chapel. For me, it’s a haven of tranquillity amidst the bustle and noise of Zurich Airport, an oasis of calm. It’s a great place to reflect and find peace. The “Butzenbüel” hill also has a very special significance for me; to my mind, its scale provides a nice contrast with the small chapel. I also love experiencing the different cultures at the airport at first hand and being able to meet and help all kinds of different people.

Do you miss your days as an airliner?
I’ve loved flying ever since I flew for the first time, at the age of 17, so my time as a travelling salesman couldn’t have suited me better. Today, however, I take a rather more measured view of flying. Nowadays, people are always on the move, and flying has become a matter of routine for many people. People travel from one side of the world to the other so frequently, and so fast, that the soul can’t really “keep up”. This constant mobility prevents many people from finding their own, inner peace. Personally, I only fly when absolutely necessary.

Are there any negative aspects to your work?
Not negative, but there are difficult aspects, such as unexpected deaths. It is for those situations in particular that it is important to have a chaplaincy at the airport. But not just in those circumstances, because we also share the many small pleasures and successes with people. I’m grateful to be part of this airport environment and to be there for my fellow human beings. I draw my strength from my relationship with God.

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