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Sea, sun and the sacraments

The Vatican will publish guidelines for cruise ship chaplains as part of the 90th anniversary of the Apostleship of the Sea.

VATICAN CITY - It is not just sea, sun and celebrating the sacraments for Catholic chaplains aboard cruise ships.

Regional directors of the Apostleship of the Sea meeting at the Vatican in early February ratified a document clarifying the role of chaplains who serve on board cruise ships.

Among its provisions, the document stipulated that priests should not celebrate Catholic weddings on a cruise, but they should be available to offer blessings for newlyweds or couples celebrating wedding anniversaries. It also stated that priests should offer daily and Sunday Masses, as well as ecumenical prayer services when required.

Chaplains should make themselves available for pastoral care and counseling not only with passengers but also the crew, hotel staff and even the entertainers aboard ship, the guidelines said. Chaplains are also encouraged to attend staff and employee meetings during a cruise to better understand the issues and concern of the people working on board.

The new guidelines asked cruise ship companies to provide chaplains with a private cabin and all standard meals. They are also asked to provide everything necessary to celebrate Mass, including vestments and chalices, and to advertise all the public activities of the chaplain while on board.

Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, which oversees the Apostleship of the Sea, said the recent growth of the cruise ship industry prompted the writing of the new "Cruise Ship Ministry Guidelines."

The document will be published later in the year as part of the 90th anniversary celebrations of the Apostleship of the Sea, an organization started in 1920 in Glasgow, Scotland, to oversee the Church's mission to Catholics workers in maritime industries.

Deacon Albert M. Dacanay, regional coordinator of the Apostleship of the Sea for North America and the Caribbean, attended the Vatican meeting in early February. He estimated that 60 percent of U.S. cruise ship clients are Catholic and that 80 percent of U.S. cruise ship staff members are Catholics, the majority coming from the Philippines.

Deacon Dacanay said his office was concerned about the recent decision of Celebrity Cruises to have Catholic chaplains on board only on major religious holidays, but he said the situation is evolving.

Celebrity Cruises recently revised its policy again, agreeing to have priests on board ships during Lent and the Easter season and for all cruises going to the Holy Land, according to Doreen M. Badeaux, secretary general of the Apostleship of the Sea in the United States.

Deacon Dacanay said, "There is still a big clamor for chaplains to be on the ships, and there is a large number of cruise ship companies still to bring along" into the official programs of the Apostleship of the Sea.

In the United States, the Apostleship of the Sea oversees the Cruise Ship Priest Program, which ensures that priests on cruise ships are in good standing and which helps place chaplains aboard cruise liners. Celebrity Cruises is one of seven cruise lines that use the services of the Apostleship of the Sea's U.S. offices.

Deacon Dacanay said that he would like to see the U.S. cruise ships do more for the Catholic crews that they employ and that the new guidelines will address his concerns.

Creating guidelines for chaplains from a variety of countries serving on ships with different national registrations was one of the challenges in writing the document, said Father Bruno Ciceri, the international director of the Apostleship of the Sea.

For instance, Father Ciceri said, Italian cruise ships have chaplains that are formally part of the crew as commissioned officers, while many ships serving U.S. customers use priests who volunteer their services in exchange for free passage on board vacation liners.

"In Italy the priests go as part of the crew, while in the U.S.A. the priests go as part of their 'R and R', - there is a big difference," Father Ciceri said. "But at last we will have a common policy on many aspects of having Catholic chaplains on cruises."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010