Page 10, 26th September 1997

26th September 1997
Page 10
Page 10, 26th September 1997 — PARISH IN Focus: INTERFAITH CHAPEL, GATWICK AIRPORT, WEST SUSSEX
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PARISH IN Focus: INTERFAITH CHAPEL, GATWICK AIRPORT, WEST SUSSEX

ANON KEVIN pinpoints the location of the Interfaith chapel: 'We're just opposite McDonald's in the Gatwick Village," he says helpfully, "right at the heart of the airport." For the uninititated, the Village is where the weary traveller comes to eat, drink, make merry and spend

money. The village is suspended above the main concourse; you look down on people checking in, a moving sea of humanity, trolleys and suitcases. The chapel announces its presence quietly. Tastefully arranged religious symbols in blue indicate you are on the right track but it's still a surprise to find a religious presence behind the green office door.

The mom is simply furnished in shades of pale green and biege. Two stands of yellow flowers, brighten the decor and lift the rather solemn environment. A sign helpfully points the way to Mecca. This is a chapel for all faiths, people of all denominations come here to pray and rest awhile. A visitor's book to the rear of the room records messages of thanks and prayerquietness amid the bustle'.

"You've found me ignorant and fresh; this is my first weekend," smiles Canon McHugh. This is only Day Two for the new Catholic airport chaplain. There are rotas of Mass times and airport bleepers to cope with, not to mention the usual rigmarole of moving to a new area. But he is very much at home: "The in-house literature could be straight out of Bishop's House they talk about community, building spirit, motivation, all the key words

for parishes across the county,

He was based previously at Keymer but felt there was "another job in me". He wanted to move towards a "progressive retirement" not just "doddering" from one day

toanother. "I'm 70next month

and I really don't think a modern parish can be run by a priest of 70 on his own." The Chaplaincy is a good alternative "I've now got the biggest parish I could ever have imagined with minimal administration and maximum pastoral work". There are 25,000 full time staff at Gatwick plus the travellers and he is enjoying himself immensely. "It's been a big shot in the arm".

Chaplaincy brings its own constraints. He explains that he is trying to get away from the idea of rigid parish Mass times, to offer a more flexible service. Pilgrimage groups travelling through Gatwick like to arrange Mass, "a little bit of extra insurance for the trip," he says tongue in cheek It's going to be a case of trial and error, of seeing how and where he can be of most service. "The Bishop has made it clear he doen't want me to be just a "Massing' Priest. I will be here to counsel, really to be available for whoever needs me. Most of us, at sometime, need time to talk."

Canon McHugh was in Peru for 15 years, working with the poor of the barrilos or shanty towns. With Fr Austen Garvey, now parish priest at Soho Square, they established programmes for the mentally handicapped, setting up centres in the heart of Lima. "The people may be disadvantaged but they are determined to do the best for their children. We built a big day centre St Martin de Pones. It became a focus for a number of projects, we proved we could make a difference."

The barrios, despite the endemic poverty were places of hope, where faith and God are an integral part of people's lives. "I feel I've swapped a developed Church in an undeveloped country for an undeveloped Church in a developed country.

'We have made this artificial class called 'the Lapsed'", he continues. "Some of the people in the barrio may never go near a church but they are still proud to say 'I am a Catholicmuy Catolico.' I think this point needs hammering home, we've got to react against this apathy to make a change for the better."

The Church in Peru is packed with young people and is, in turn, bearing fruit with vocations coming from the bathos. Canon McHugh is full of praise for the people and bemoans the decrease in spirituality which western affluence brings: "I'm not extolling poverty, but we have to ask how you can keep some of these values. As soon as you get possessions you fear to lose them, you lock the doors. These people have such a capacity to celebrate life and we have lost that" We move on from spirituality to discuss the sublime merits of breeding guinea pigs a vital couxre of protein for the poor of Peru. "There's a not a great body of literature out there on guinea pig consumption but I persevered." What does guinea pig taste like? "Like guinea pig really; you have to think of God at times like that."

The sounds of the airport filter through to us: announce ments come over the tannoy, the distinctive buzz and murmur of hundreds of people on the move. Canon McHugh is now officially listed under the Apostleship of the Sea but confesses to a penchant for the sea. I've always wanted to go on a big cruise; I've no desire to get into an aeroplane ever again in my fife.

Fifteen years in South America have increased his dislike of the English winter. "This year I'm really looking forward to it. No windows, artificial light my own mini-climate -here you have to go outside to see if it's raining." He suggests a mini tour of the airport and we take the rail link to the North Terminal chapel. It has been vandalised. "Someone went in and pulled the other faith symbols down from the wall.

A message was written in the visitor's book, a real case of thou shalt not have false Gods before thee".

They have asked the culprit to come forward. 'We must never forget this is an interfaith chapel. Everyone is welcome. Everyone."

Christina White




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