Finding Faith: A visit with the Chaplain of JFK Airport

John F. Kennedy International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, with millions of travelers passing through it each year.

For Roman Catholic Priest Father Chris Piasta, however, it’s a home away from home.

The airport’s chaplain says he considers the many strangers that pass through the airport each year to be part of his flock, celebrating mass several times a week at the Our Lady of the Skies Chapel at JFK Airport.

“The chapel is important, but the work happens everywhere,” Piasta said.

Piasta does much of his ministering outside of the chapel’s walls, dressing more casually, without the traditional clerical collar, feeling that it makes him more approachable.

On any given day you can find “Father Chris,” as he’s known by airport employees, walking JFK’s long corridors looking for people to help. 

“I just go and look for troubles,” Piasta said. “The bulk of what I do is actually done on foot when I go out when I come across people I can basically read them from a distance.”

Sometimes that means giving a confused traveler directions. Other times, it’s a kind word and upon request, spiritual guidance.

Piasta is also trained like a first responder or mental health counselor to help those experiencing shock and grief. Whether it is due to a catastrophe in the air, or something that has happened on the ground, like the death of a traveler’s relative, he can be called suddenly to comfort a complete stranger experiencing the worst day of his or her life.

Piasta was born in Poland and decided to join a monastery at 19 as a stunt. But to his surprise, he found his calling, and eventually became JFK Airport’s chaplain in 2010. Now, nine years later, he says he cannot imagine working anywhere else. 

“I never know how many people I’m going to see, what’s going to happen, and what is going to be the result of the day,” Piasta said. “I believe in goodness of this world. I know that there is a lot of negativity coming from so many different sources, but ultimately and originally it all comes from goodness and positivity and the source of that is God.”