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Pastoral care on the high seas

January 21, 2012
Without a doubt we have all heard the news concerning Costa Concordia, a cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Giglio, Italy on Jan. 13. At the latest count, 11 people have been confirmed dead and another 21 passengers, including an American Catholic couple en route to Rome, are still missing.
Following the disaster, news began to surface that a Catholic priest on board who served as Chaplain, Fr Raffaele Malena, played an instrumental role in aiding the evacuation and providing comfort and solace to distraught passengers.
So what exactly is the role of a chaplain aboard a cruise ship, you might ask? Fr. Giacomo Martino, director of maritime ministry for the Church in Italy, had a very solid answer.
In a recent interview with Zenit, Fr. Martino said that a Chaplain onboard acts as a man of God, without making distinctions between the passengers and crew, even if most of his time is devoted to working with the crew. He added that these workers count on the presence of a chaplain, even if they are of other religious confessions.
In the case of the Costa Concordia, the Chaplain wasn't the only point of pastoral care for those on board.
Parishioners at a Catholic Church on the tiny island of Giglio had their own role to play in the disaster. At Mass on Jan. 15, inside Giglio's main Church, evacuees and parishioners came together to celebrate the source and summit of our Catholic faith, the Eucharist - Holy Mass. During Mass, altar servers brought to the altar a life vest, rescue helmet, role, plastic tarp and bread.
This is exactly what Catholic outreach is all about. Everyone who played some sort of role during the unfolding of this disaster demonstrated compassion, an open arm, hospitality and welcome. We as Catholics are called to be living signs of God's salvation and reconciliation here on earth and a source of hospitality and comfort was given to those survivors in their time of need.
The Church has and will always continue to play a leading role in providing comfort and assistance to those in times of disaster. The sinking of Costa Concordia is no different.
We give thanks to God for the gift of Fr. Malena who went above and beyond the call of duty. It is comforting to know that while I'm on vacation aboard a cruise I can continue living out my faith as best as possible by attending Mass and seeking out spiritual guidance, all because of a humble and generous priest like Fr. Malena.
We pray for those families who are suffering the loss of a loved one at this difficult time. May the souls of those who have perished, and all of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.