August 28, 2007 in Business

Spiritual journey starts at airport

Marta Falconi Associated Press
Associated Press photos photo

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, speaks at the launch of a Vatican-backed charter airline Monday in Rome. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)

ROME – A Vatican-backed charter airline service made its inaugural flight Monday, aiming to carry pilgrims to such Catholic shrines as Lourdes, Fatima, Santiago de Compostela and the Holy Land.

The flights, scheduled to start regular service next year, are tailored to the pilgrims’ needs, with religious inscriptions decorating the seats and religious videos shown on board.

“We want to create the conditions to enable pilgrims to live their pilgrimage starting at their city’s airport and even before they arrive at their destinations,” said the Rev. Caesar Atuire, CEO of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, an outfit that organizes pilgrimages for the Diocese of Rome.

The inaugural flight carried VIPs and church officials to Lourdes.

The five-year agreement between Mistral Air, a small airline owned by the private Italian post office, and the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, offers flights leaving from seven Italian airports, including Rome and Verona, with a Boeing 737-300.

Officials expect the deal will bring an estimated 150,000 passengers a year to destinations including Fatima, Portugal; Lourdes, France; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; the Holy Land; Czestochowa, Poland; and Sinai, Egypt.

Details on schedules and fares are still being discussed.

However, Atuire said the airline is hoping to offer pilgrims competitive prices.

Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini praised the initiative.

“The way to make pilgrimages can change over time, but their deepest meaning remains the same: to look for a deeper contact with God,” he told reporters before boarding the inaugural flight.

The Vatican does not have an airline or its own airport, and the pope regularly takes special flights with commercial carriers for his trips around the globe.

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