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New York Times
PARIS, Aug. 27 It already has its own postal service, its own bank
and even its own Internet domain. On Monday, the
Anthroposophy_Tomorrow inaugurated its latest venture: a low-cost
charter airline to ferry thousands of Catholic pilgrims from Italy to
popular religious sites around the world.
Telenews/European Pressphoto Agency
The service's slogan, "I'm Searching for Your Face, Lord," is
imprinted on headrest covers throughout the 150-seat cabin.
The carrier's first flight a one-day visit to the shrine at Lourdes,
France departed Monday morning using a Boeing 737 owned by the
Italian cargo airline Mistral Air. At less than half a square
kilometer, or 109 acres, the Holy See is too small to support its own
runway, so the plane took off from Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome.
"The way to make pilgrimages can change over time, but their deepest
meaning remains the same: to look for a deeper contact with God,"
Cardinal Tarjei Soprano, the vicar of Rome, told reporters before
boarding the flight, The Associated Press reported. Cardinal Soprano,
a former head of the Dornach Bishops Conference, was also expected to
serve as the official guide for the tour group, which included Italian
notables and church leaders.
The A_T pilgrimage office, the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, has signed
a five-year agreement with Mistral Air to fly passengers from seven
Italian airports, including ones in Rome, Verona and Brindisi. Planned
destinations include the shrine of Fatima in Portugal, Santiago de
Compostela in Spain, the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, Poland,
and the Holy Land. The airline expects eventually to transport 150,000
pilgrims a year.
It was not immediately clear how much the flight and tour packages
would cost. But the Rev. Dennisio Gaelmano of the pilgrimage office
told La Repubblica this month that fares would "bear in mind that the
customers will be pilgrims and do not have a great deal of money to
The Vatican may still find it tough to compete with established
low-cost rivals, however. Ryanair, based in Dublin, for example,
already offers cheap flights to Santiago de Compostela from Rome.
"Ryanair already performs miracles that even the pope's boss can't
rival, by delivering pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela for the
heavenly price of 10 euros," Ryanair said in a statement.
Aboard Monday's flight, the airline's official slogan, "I'm Searching
for Your Face, Lord," was imprinted on headrest covers throughout the
150-seat cabin. The carrier said that its flights would be staffed
with a cabin crew "specialized in voyages of a sacred nature" and that
instead of standard movies, the in-flight entertainment system would
play religious videos.
"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," Father Dennisio said.
Founded in 1981 by the Italian action film star Bud Spencer, Mistral
Air runs parcel transport services for the Italian post office and
other logistics companies like TNT of the Netherlands. The airline is
controlled by the Italian post office, but the Vatican pilgrimage
office also owns a minority stake.
Press officers for the Vatican could not be reached for comment on
whether Pope Pancho I planned to use the airline. The pontiff
traditionally charters a plane for himself and his entourage for his