Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Cruise Ship Priests 'Go with the Flow'

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Cruise Ship Priests 'Go with the Flow'

Article excerpt

The. Bon voyage! call from cruise ship passengers as they depart from port signals the fun and leisure awaiting them onboard their floating entertainment hub. But for cruise ship priests, the cheers means their ministry is about to begin.

In 2013, 661 cruises had priests onboard through the Cruise Ship Priest Program of the Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America (AOS-USA). The 500 priests participating in the program set sail to offer sacramental and pastoral services to both crew and passengers. In the U.S., priests, often retired or using vacation time, remain onboard for the duration of a single voyage, but clergy in other countries, such as Italy, will serve as chaplains and spend months aboard the vessels.

At first glance, the ministry seems a sweet gig, where a priest enjoys a relaxing vacation on the water in exchange for celebrating a few Masses.

"We tell the priests all the time: If you want a cruise--buy a ticket," said Fr. Sinclair Oubre, former AOS-USA president.

The program began in 2003 as a response to what the church saw as a growing scandal--rent-a-priests from manning agents, and others not in good standing presenting themselves as Catholic priests to cruise lines. To ensure authentic clergy onboard, AOS-USA prescreens applicants for a history of sexual misconduct or alcoholism, and also requires a permission letter from their local bishop or provincial.

Still, it remains high seas in convincing cruise lines of the importance of such authorized priests, or even of their presence onboard at all. Currently, AOS-USA partners with four cruise lines--a small portion of the 26 operating in North America--with Holland America the only line routinely placing a priest on a ship; others often make arrangements during Holy Week trips.

The onboard ministry itself is an active one that encourages the priests to make themselves accessible outside religious rites. …

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