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Air-traffic controller amazed at Pope’s call

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Air Traffic Control specialist Kay-Ann Chambers-DeShields took the call from Pope Francis on Saturday.

An air-traffic control specialist has said she “didn’t know whether to laugh or cry” when receiving a call from Pope Francis.

Kay-Ann Chambers-DeShields was on duty when the Pope contacted Bermuda to transmit a prayer for blessings as he flew over the Island en route to Cuba on Saturday.

The extraordinary correspondence came through the New York Centre, which is the controlling body for the airspace above Bermuda, when a pilot told her he was “carrying the Holy Father” on board the plane from Rome to Havana.

Ms Chambers-DeShields, a Jamaican national and naturalised Bermudian, said: “When I first heard from New York I thought it could have been an emergency situation or just someone wanting to get information. I responded to him and that’s when he told me that he was carrying the Holy Father. That’s how they referred to him.

“He said, ‘We are Alitalia, we are flying over your air space and on board we have the Holy Father and we would like to pass on a message to your nation’. “I just responded for him to go ahead and that is when another voice came on that was different to the pilot’s.”

The radio transcript of the conversation reads: “I send cordial greetings [to] your Excellency and your fellow citizens. As I fly over your country on my way to Cuba for a pastoral visit; evoking these blessings upon you all. I ask Almighty God to grant to the nation: wellbeing and peace. From a peaceful Pope.” Ms Chambers-DeShields said that while the transmission was very “staticky” she has a trained ear and could make out the words.

She continued: “It was a little surprising — I said I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. His English was not as clear as he has an accent. I thanked him and then he thanked me back. I said God bless you and he said the same to me and then the pilot came back on the frequency.

“I made a report of it and said that it was for the Bermuda Government not for Air-Traffic Control. I spoke with my colleague about it at work and then I dismissed it; because I am a Christian too it is very nice and a prayer from anyone is accepted.”

Ms Chambers-DeShields, who has worked in the air traffic control service for 25 years including 15 in Bermuda, said she had never experienced a call like it. “Not from a Pope,” she laughed. “This was more or less a highlight for me.”

During his historic trip to Cuba, the Pope has met with former Cuba leader Fidel Castro and other government officials; later this week he will continue his journey to the United States, where he is expected to meet with President Obama and address Congress.

Michael Dunkley said he was “delighted and appreciative” of the Pope’s gesture. The Premier had written to the Pope, Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro last year, following the announcement of the building of relations between the two countries.

Pope Francis' cap flies off his head as he deplanes in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. The pope began his 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States, embarking on his first trip to the onetime Cold War foes after helping to nudge forward their historic rapprochement. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate Via AP)