VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 19, 2002 ( John Paul II encouraged airport chaplains "to be increasingly closer to travelers and employees," who are more worried since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Pope made his request in a message sent to the 35th annual conference of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, meeting in Paris this week. The 140 chaplains are attending the meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

In his message, John Paul II encourages the participants "to value the opportunities that airports can provide, working for greater solidarity among the millions of travelers who use them every day and among airport employees who spend long hours in them."

The Holy Father expresses the hope that the conference "will find ways to enhance the role of airport chaplains and further promote the use of airport chapels as a service to people on the move."

The International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains is made up of delegates of 132 international airports which have a religious center open to passengers.

A total of 211 chaplains work in these centers, 91 of them full time, to ensure religious and spiritual aid to passengers and airport and airline personnel. The chaplains are also available to minister to victims of air disasters.

Most of the chaplains are Christian (Catholic, Anglican, Protestant). Some are Buddhist, Muslim or Jewish.

In addition to reception offices, the chaplains count on 106 chapels, prayer rooms, and places of worship in airports that are members of the association.

Since the 9/11 attacks, many chaplains have reported a marked increased in participation in religious services and consultations, especially in the United States.

The current president of the association is the Reverend Walter Meier, Protestant chaplain at Zurich International Airport in Switzerland.