According to media reports, a very interesting situation arose when the passengers of the first ever Vatican Airways pilgrimage flight prepared for their return flight to Rome.
As reported earlier, the Vatican has launched a new initiative, which is providing air travel for Catholic pilgrims from Italy to some Holy Sites. You can read more about the first flight in another earlier post as well.
But what happened at the airport in Lourdes is really showing the clash between religious and non-religous life. The pilgrims took the flight from Rome to Lourdes to visit the “Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral”, which is one of the holiest locations in connection with Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Roman Catholic world. (The sanctuary lays at the site where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared in 1858.) Pilgrims usually stand in long lines at the grotto, to fill up their bottles with holy water which is said to have miraculous healing powers. Until this point, the story is absolutely OK. But taking these bottles filled with holy water home? Onboard an airplane? That leads to some unwanted airport situations, which the organizers of the flight have probably not warned the passengers about. Those of you who have recently travelled around Europe by air, may guess our point of interest: Bingo! It’s the new EU-wide security regulations, about liquids in carry-on baggage!!
According to the regulations, you are not allowed to take more than 1 liter of liquids on board, and the size of each container (“portion”) within this 1 liter may not exceed 1 deciliter. Or course, the pilgrims filled up their bottles with holy water from the holy site, and it is also understandable that they wished not to check it in. For some of them, taking the holy water home (to some sick loved ones maybe) was probably the most important reason to take this pilgrimage and the flight. Unfortunate for them, the EU airport regulations are in place and are enforced all over Europe, and the French authorities did not make an exception in their fight against terrorism. “All passengers are obliged to respect the rules and not go over the quantities (of liquid) permitted“ on flights, said Franck Hourcade, an official at the Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees International Airport.
Therefore the passengers were forced to either leave the water bottles behind, or as one of them has reportedly done: drink it on spot, at the security check, right next to the X-rax machines. According to The Associated Press Francesco Pizzo, Mistral Air’s president, said the company must adhere to the international regulations. “There are international rules that state that liquids cannot be carried on board. These have to be respected,” he said. Pizzo further announced that Mistral Air had provided small bottles shaped like a Madonna and full of holy water on every seat for when the pilgrims came back on board. The flight carried 145 passengers on the inagural flight of the new Airline, he said.