WHEN the late Senator Robert Kennedy arrived at London's Heathrow Airport on a Sunday he was astounded to be told there was no chapel at the airport where he could attend Mass.
Directed to the taxi-rank, he was told he would find the nearest Catholic Church at Hounslow. However, the taxidrivers were reluctant to take him on a "short ruh" and it was only after a bout of unpleasant haggling that he eventually got to his destination.
Later Kennedy complained bitterly to friends about the episode. As Catholic chapels are a feature of most of the big international airports, the then U.S. Attorney General was mystified why Heathrow, which can provide its visitors with everything from a psychiatrist to a dog-kennel, had no chapel.
The Catholic Aviation Guild were at this time campaigning foia chapel and the Kennedy episode gave them much welcomed encouragement.
Masi had been celebrated in office-buildings from time to time but as the ecumenical movement was gaining strength it seemed uneconomical and "hardly ecumenicalto build separate chapels. The plans for
a single building were developed and last Friday they became a reality. In the presence of about 100 invited guests representing the major Christian denominations the airport's £95,000 underground chapel was dedicated by Bishop Ronald Goodchild, the Anglican Bishop of Kensington, Bishop Casey, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and Dr. Aubrey Vine. general secretary of the Free Church Federal Council.
Situated within a few yards of the central control tower, it was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, who is the overall designer of the airport's principal buildings.
It is to be known as St. George's chapel and entrance is gained through a walled garden in which stands a large wooden cross.
Beneath the garden, encased in concrete away from the overhead whine of jets, is a circular nave which extends outwards to form three apses which accommodate two altars and a communion table.
The design allows for joint services whenever possible. There is seating for 120 and this, of course, can be moved to allow for simultaneous services with small congregations.
Of the £70.000 already donated towards the cost, £50,000 has been contributed by the Church of England and the Westminster Diocese (half each), £5,000 by the Rank Foundation on behalf of the Free Churches, £2,000 from the Pope, £1,000 by the Airport Authority and £500 each by the City of London, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmithshas presented £5,000 worth of altar plate.
Although the Church of England chaplain, the Rev. Ben Lewers will be using the chapel as his full-time headquarters Fr. Charles Mercer, the 35year-old Catholic priest from the nearby Cranford parish, will use it only as the need arises.
He will say Mass there on Fridays at 1 'p.m., Sundays at 11 a.m. and on Holy Days of Obligation, and at other times on request.
This year 13 million passengers will pass through the airport and there are about 4,000 Catholics among the airport's permanent staff of some 42.000.