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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Airline Supported By Vatican

ROME -- A Vatican-backed charter service made its inaugural flight Monday, aiming to carry pilgrims to such Catholic shrines as Lourdes, Fatima, Santiago de Compostela and the Holy Land.

The flights, scheduled to start regular service next year, are tailored to the pilgrims' needs, with inscriptions such as "I search for Your face, Lord," decorating the seats and religious videos shown on board.

"We want to create the conditions to enable pilgrims to live their pilgrimage starting at their city's airport and even before they arrive at their destinations," said the Reverend Caesar Atuire, CEO for Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, an outfit that organizes pilgrimages for the Diocese of Rome.

"That's why we created this initiative, with a dedicated aircraft, trained staff, and messages [on board] to help people live a better experience," he told reporters at a presentation ahead of the inaugural flight, which carried VIPs and church officials to Lourdes.

The five-year agreement between Mistral Air, a small airline owned by the private Italian post office, and Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, offers flights leaving from seven Italian airports, including Rome and Verona, with a Boeing 737-300.

Officials expect the deal will bring an estimated 150,000 passengers per year to destinations including Fatima, Portugal; Lourdes, France; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; the Holy Land; Czestochowa, Poland; and Sinai, Egypt.