Diocesan News

LaGuardia Airport to Receive Room For Religious Services by ‘End of Year’

Chaplain: ‘This is going to make all the difference’

EAST ELMHURST — A room will be available at the end of this year for chaplains to hold services at LaGuardia Airport, according to an official with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Deacon Vincent Lino from Holy Trinity Parish in Whitestone, Queens, conducts Ash Wednesday duties March 2 at LaGuardia Airport. The deacon’s fellow chaplains have asked the Port Authority and Delta Airlines for more space to conduct religious services at LaGuardia. (Photo: Courtesy of Deacon Vincent Lino)

“We expect it to open towards the end of this year in the fourth quarter,” the official said on April 1. “So that could be anywhere from the late fall into the early winter.”

[Related: St. Louis Airport Chaplains Cheer Efforts to Create Chapel at LaGuardia]

The official, speaking on background, shared the projected timeline while updating The Tablet on the “walkthrough” of the airport’s Terminal B meditation room that occurred on March 16.

Chaplains were told then, and at an earlier meeting in January, that they would have access to the room in the Central Hall after renovations are completed there, the official said.

“We would also ensure that there was a space for them to store the materials that they would need in order to hold services,” the official added. “I expect the operating agreement will be finalized and in place by the time the Central Hall opens.”

A fourth-quarter opening would mark about one year since The Tablet first reported in October how Father Chris Piasta has struggled to get a chapel as part of ongoing renovations at LaGuardia.

Father Piasta is the Catholic chaplain at both JFK International Airport and LaGuardia. A few years ago, he asked for a chapel in the renovated LaGuardia but was instead offered the meditation room in Terminal B. However, no religious services will be allowed in that room.

Father Piasta said that he can’t celebrate Mass there and would also have difficulty hearing a confession without exclusive access to the room.

“Some people,” he said, “will be using that for prayer, meditation, reflection, or yoga. That’s fine with me,” he said. “But from the position of a chaplain, that does not really give us much.”

Access to a multipurpose conference room, however, is a game-changer.

“That is the most important thing,” Father Piasta said. “That’s where the ongoing regular services are going to be held. This is really what is going to make all the difference for us as chaplains.”

American Airlines 737 landing at LaGuardia Airport, as seen from Planeview Park. (Photo: Headphase via Wikimedia Commons)

Father Piasta said he is eager for an update on the available storage space in the conference room, but the Port Authority official indicated that it is hard to pin down now.

“It is an active construction site,” the official said. “But we will work with the chaplains to ensure we are able to meet their needs.”

The March 16 walkthrough, which involved Terminal B and the meditation room, did not include Terminal C and the Central Hall because of ongoing construction. Still, future ones have been discussed, the official added.

“When a walkthrough is possible is also really unclear,” the official added, “but it is something that we spoke about doing. When it is possible to do so, we can certainly get something scheduled.”

Delta Airlines, which is combining Terminals C and D into one Terminal C, has also offered a conference room for services there. Officials for the airline had not responded by press time. The new Terminal C’s expected completion has a window of 2023-2024.

The Terminal B walkthrough got postponed twice — once in January and once in February — but was finally held on March 16 for chaplains. The media was not invited.

Shirley Paul, Gov. Hochul’s senior advisor, and Jake Adler, director of Jewish affairs for her office, attended the walkthrough.

Hersh Parekh, the Port Authority’s director of government and community relations, also attended the walkthrough and said officials were pleased with its outcome.

“All participants agreed that the solutions discussed to address the request for space at the new LGA — for meditation, prayer, and religious services — represent a positive path forward,” he said. “We look forward to continued dialogue and collaboration.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis also attended. He was there at the invitation of Vincent LeVien, director of external affairs at DeSales Media Group, the communications arm of the Diocese of Brooklyn and the ministry that produces The Tablet.

Rabbi Potasnik said he initially objected to the meditation room’s location next to restrooms and a “pet relief station,” but he has since changed his opinion.

“It would not have been my first choice,” he said of the location. “But you know, given a choice between ‘ideal’ and ‘no,’ we’ll take this.”

Rabbi Potasnik, who co-hosts “The Rev and The Rabbi” on WABC Talk Radio 77, praised Father Piasta and Rabbi Ari Korenblit, a Jewish chaplain, for working with the Port Authority to help ensure faith flourishes at LaGuardia.

“I’m very proud of the relationship we, the Jewish community, share with the Catholic community,” he said. “I cannot remember in my life ever sharing such a close relationship. That’s attributable to the great leadership on both sides. And also to the grassroots.

“We have to write a chapter in which we truly are brothers and sisters of one family.”

The Terminal B walkthrough at LaGuardia Airport was held on March 16 for chaplains, other clergy, and staffers for Gov. Kathy Hochul. Attending were (from left): Hersh Parekh, Port Authority; Rev. Romeo Dabee, chaplain; Father Chris Piasta, chaplain; Vincent LeVien, DeSales Media Group; Rabbi Ari Korenblit, chaplain; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, New York Board of Rabbis; Jake Adler, governor’s office; Shirley Paul, governor’s office; and Tracy Sandford, LaGuardia Gateway Partners. (Photo: Courtesy of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)