During my Sunday morning Manila layover, a funny thing happened on my way to Davao City in the Philippines. As I waited for flight 813, after a 17-hour flight from the States, a loud voice boomed over the intercom, “For all those interested in attending morning mass, please go to domestic terminal gate number eight.” Although I would not call myself religious, I still had several hours to kill and this had to be a joke. I made my way across the crowded terminal to discover two men with a silver briefcase. They were pulling out a sparkling white tablecloth, several candles, and a Tupperware container filled with wafers. It was not a joke and I was not the only one who showed up that morning for services. It also appeared that many other travelers had a bit of spirituality on their minds. They were predominantly Filipino people ranging in age from late twenties to mid-sixties with no particular social status, just some folks leaving for flights around the Philippines.
This patient airport congregation watched two men play around with a wireless microphone, which seemed not to be working. One of the men thanked us for being here as the clock struck 9AM without a working microphone. Much to my surprise, the entire service was presented in English. The specifics of their sermon, which appeared to come form the New Testement, was difficult to understand not only be due to the accents of the Filipino clergy, but also from the constant interruptions by the airport intercom, the low rattle of air-conditioning vents and typical airport acoustics. Certainly, words like “Jesus” and “Jesus’ love” were frequent and understood, but definitely played second fiddle to airport announcements.
I would later discover I was attending a Roman Catholic service presented by Monsignor Modesto M. Teston and Brother Art Jimenez. Brother Art explained to me that the service had been part of the domestic airport experience for more than ten years. He then leaned in to me as if he was about to tell me a big secret. “There is only been one complaint, it was from a Muslim.” He then paused and looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was listening in before continuing. “I told him that the Philippines is a free country, and that he can pray however he wants to. We were doing the same. I don’t think he was not happy with [our] services being around.”
At some point, during a particularly long airport announcement about unattended baggage, everyone’s stood up. Then Brother Art began took incense and smudged the air around the folding table that acted as an altar. The Monsignor looked serious. One by one, people began to line up kneeling before the Monsignor, communion had begun. I decided just to watch as the Monsignor made hand gestures before delivering each wafer. I am a little uncomfortable by the whole thing. Again, I was not alone. I guess that only fifty-percent took the wafer. I was surprised. I thought there was a rule of sorts pertaining to this.
As it turns out Monsignor Teston is the airport chaplain. His services were requested by the outbound passengers and the airplane crew from Philippine Airlines. At the morning service, which lasted a full hour, I counted seven flight attendants and three nuns. The nuns would later share my plane to Davao. The Monsignor can be heard every Sunday at the Manila airport in the domestic terminal and communion is always available to those who want to participate – or not. For those who just want to attend the services and not take a flight, it still costs 200 Philippine Pesos for domestic airport departure tax and a thorough search of the person and property via security checkpoints.
Monsignor Teston closed his services by saying, “Go in the Peace of Christ and enjoy you’re flight.”
Written and photographed by Devin Galaudet
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