Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas Afloat

Arcadia seen through Strelitzia; in the Azores

'That'll be a nice holiday for you, Father' said most people hearing I was to act as Chaplain for nine days aboard P&Os' 'Arcadia'. Well, yes - but it was rather more than that.

One of many midnight masses in the crew mess
Every evening we were at sea the Crew (many from Goa, Kerala and other parts of India, many too from the Philippines) wanted to have Mass. Most evenings that took place in their mess - not easy with others recently off duty having a meal in the adjacent half of the mess - but it was a great experience. They are very keen on singing, and everything that could be sung was sung. For the Christmas Midnight, and again on Christmas Morning, we had joint masses for Crew and Passengers - the midnight absolutely packed in a very large Restaurant.with the Crew providing the choir.

These seamen are amazing. They seemed genuinely sorry that we would not be with them to celebrate a New Year Mass. The Port Chaplains from the Apostleship of the Sea ("Stella Maris") give what support they can, but on most of the Cruise Ships there is no full-time chaplain, and P&O invite us aboard only for Christmas and Easter. For long periods of the year the men and women are without the Church's ministrations.
After a 9am Mass with Passengers
Amazingly, the ships are not long enough in harbour for anyone to get to Mass. Arcadia said goodbye to one set of cruise passengers in Southampton on Saturday morning, and by three the same afternoon the next lot of us were installed. In the meanwhile stores had to be loaded, cabins (more than a thousand of them) cleaned, sheets, towels &c all changed, food prepared and minor repairs effected. It is a huge labour.

Spot the Donkey; just behind the Holy Family.
Crews of other vessels - tankers &c - have even less shore time, and those who work to keep the merchant fleet afloat are away from homes and families for months on end. Often what they earn is sent back to support an extended family. Yet they keep remarkably cheerful. Look at the crib they made in their mess. It is based on a world map, with the Holy Family in the middle and sheep and others dotted around the continents. You might be able to make out who occupies the British Isles; it is a donkey. They were pleased I had noticed it!

Other Christmas things have been made for the celebrations; an entire ginger-bread village decorated with sweets; and cakes with elaborate icing.most of their lives at sea, yet who have no security

The edible Christmas Village

I am writing this chiefly to encourage anyone who can to support the work of the Apostleship of the Sea (Google it for details): and to ask you to spare a prayer for men and women who spend most of their lives at sea, yet who have no security and are engaged just one trip at a time. Their devotion to Christ and his Mother and to the Church is humbling. It is a privilege for any priest to have a chance to serve them, even if only briefly.
The crib [ready for the Bambino] with some of its makers
We were sad to leave them; hard to realise that less than 24 hours ago we were at Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua
Pillars from a Boathouse in Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua

1 comment:

  1. Good of you to Sneak Fr. Ed on board with you. (2nd pic 3rd from right)