Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Cruising With Jesus, Part 1

Sing to the LORD a new song, sing His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the  sea, and all that is in it. You islands, and those who dwell on them. Isaiah 42:10

Blue skies, bluer seas: the beautiful Caribbean
What do you think of when you hear the words "Caribbean cruise"[1]. I think of blue skies, bluer seas, warm sun, white sands and boat drinks with little paper umbrellas. I also think of impoverished island nations and ships’ crews working for low wages by first world standards. Beauty and disparity: a worthy Pauline puzzle box. And I think of Jesus, Lord of us all, and his universal Church.

It's a tricky thing to write about Jesus and cruising. I found this out before my first cruise, when I asked online about the availability of Mass on the cruise. "Who's thinking of church when you're on a cruise?" was one answer I received. Another practically screamed out the subtext, "Ooohhh, aren't YOU something special? Being all pious while the rest of us are drinking and partying!"
I chalk these up both to bad manners and my awkwardness in communicating the importance of Jesus in my life. If I wore a habit like the Daughters of St. Paul, it wouldn't seem unnatural to be preoccupied with Christ. But Pauline laity? Not so much. Yet the Founder envisioned Cooperators as "persons who have the sense of Christ …  who have zeal and think of the good of souls; who see in the Pauline Family an initiative to give Jesus Christ to the world [2]"

I also suspect that a thirst for living water -- a hunger for Christ -- simmers beneath all manifestations of modern indifference. Experience bears this out. I have found a pent-up hunger for God among guests and crew alike while cruising.

Last year, for example, we met a priest whose parishioners had gifted him with a cruise for his 25th jubilee year of ordination. He volunteered to celebrate Sunday Mass on board the ship, and was offered the use of the 35-40 person capacity ship's chapel. No public announcement was made; news spread by word of mouth.

Impromptu Mass Aboard the Norwegian Pearl
We arrived fifteen minutes early and found all seats taken by guests and crew. Soon even standing room was gone, and the crowd flowed into the hall. The guest services staff had underestimated the zeal of Catholics for Mass[3]. Eventually they moved everyone into one of the larger theaters, and donated red wine for Communion. Two hundred plus participants celebrated a lively liturgy. There was even a comical side. Not knowing what was happening, the bar staff brought us drink menus!

Another time, on a Carnival cruise, we docked in Domenica, hoping to catch Mass at Our Lady of Fair Haven Cathedral. But the cathedral was undergoing renovations and we were told it was closed. (We later learned that Mass had been moved off site.) We met Serendipity when we queried a local guide. He showed us a shuttle full of Catholics, all looking for Sunday Mass independently. On the drive to church, we discussed ways to educate Carnival about the possibilities of religious tourism. 

St Alphonsus Liguori, Domenica

We arrived at St Alphonsus, a lively parish with many young families and singles. The congregation, lead by an excellent choir, sang with vigor. What a treat to hear spirited singing from ordinary Catholics at an ordinary Sunday Mass!

A family affair at St. Alphonsus: Jumaare & J'Myiah Bonnare,
Keiziah Dowton & Kerry-Ann Richards, with permission.
Finding Jesus in Caribbean ports of call is an endless adventure. Our preferred cruise line, Carnival, loads us up with information on buying duty-free luxuries and liquors, but typically cannot answer queries about where to find churches in port. So Bill and I research the dioceses located along our itinerary before we get on board. Many churches are located within walking distance of the docking pier. For others we find transportation by taxi, bus, even Pedi cycle. Churches can be in any neighborhood. A priest in Jamaica once advised us to go left and not right as we departed, if we wanted to explore the neighborhood safely -- valuable advice for innocents abroad.
Not so valuable was a piece of advice given by a U.S. pastor to parishioners who asked him about fulfilling their Sunday Mass obligation while cruising:

"Our parish priest told us 5 years ago that masses in the islands would be very different than what we are used to at home. He said to just go and enjoy our vacation. We could go when we got back. He also gave us the readings for the mass we would be missing just so we could read them and know what mass would have been about [4]."
Setting aside the question whether this was sound pastoral advice, meant to be shared publicly, I think he was focusing on externals and missed the point.  We find exactly the opposite -- nothing brings home the reality that the Church is ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC [5] – like worship in a foreign port.
In every church we enter we find two photographs hanging: a picture of the local bishop and one of Pope Francis. With the successors of the Apostles looking down at us, we know without doubt: we are an APOSTOLIC Church.

We have attended Mass in Creole, Spanish, English and Papiamentu. The language may vary but the action of the liturgy does not vary. We gather, we ask forgiveness, we hear the Word, we offer gifts, we eat the sacred meal, and we depart refreshed and revitalized. We do this in every land and language. We are a CATHOLIC or UNIVERSAL Church.
No matter the time, Mass is the eternal sacrifice of Calvary made present on earth. The Church is ONE.
No matter the place, Mass is heaven on earth. The Church is HOLY.


[1] The author and her husband are spending golden retirement years cruising the waters of the Caribbean. This is the first in a series that examines living out the Pauline charism in such pleasant circumstances. 

[2] Blessed James Alberione, San Paolo (SP), Bollettino interno della Società S. Paolo , Maggio 1957

[3] Holland America Cruise Line does have a Catholic priest on board all sailings, placed by the Church’s Apostleship of the Seas (AOS) which ministers to maritime workers and travelers.  Ships’ crews can go for months without access to Mass, making the AOS a valuable ministry.

[4] Trip Advisor Forum,, User scrappinannie, Apr 01, 2014,.

[5] The four supernatural marks of the Catholic Church.

[6] The language spoken in the Dutch Antilles.


Rae Stabosz has been a member of the Association of Pauline Cooperators since 2003. She and Bill Stabosz, her husband of 46 years, have six sons, three daughters, nine grandsons and seven granddaughters; they eagerly await the birth of grand #17. Rae retired in 2007 from the University of Delaware, where she was a technology and media specialist for 27 years. She is co-founder and past president of The Society of Catholic Scholars of Delaware and proprietor, since 2004, of the Pious Ladies Bookmobile.


Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

Worship in a foreign port. Well I guess we are always doing that in this life "For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf." Hebrews 9:24
Thanks for the enjoyable article! Sr Margaret Charles

Maryann Toth said...

Thank you, Rae. Great article. As a fan of Caribbean cruises, I can relate. It is so beautiful to share our faith on board and on land in foreign ports. How awesome it is to be able to attend Mass where ever we travel! Maryann Toth

Rae Stabosz said...

I just went back to an earlier draft of this and see that I included a possible damper on my exhilaration about the tiny chapel on the Norwegian Pearl being flooded with eager attendees. I wrote:

"But maybe I'm just throwing a glossy gaze over a mundane need of Catholics to fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation."

Maybe I would sound less Pollyana-ish if I'd left that in. But I also wrote, in that draft:

"So what? An obligation can be a joy. Ask a sleep-deprived mother or father the first weeks after a baby is born."

I am working hard on trying to write about my joy in Christ without straining belief or sounding just sentimental. I wish I were an artist - colors might help!

Easter Almuena said...

It's wonderful to hear of your adventures, Rae. I think maybe you should compile all your travel stories and put them all in a book. I am reminded of St. Paul and his travels. He spoke about the Eucharist to the Ephesians and Corinthians, and celebrated mass in the homes and small and large communities (Acts 27:35)--the beginnings of our Church; it's nice to know that that reality of the past was brought to the present, there in the community of people in a cruise ship celebrated by a priest. When I get to that point of travels with my husband, if a cruise, I will make sure to ask about Mass or liturgical schedule. Also, it wouldn't hurt to ask around if a priest is on board. Thanks for a great article!