Celebrating Easter as a cruise chaplain

Fr David Burke, Stella Maris Trustee and Cruise Chaplain spent Holy Week and Easter on board the MV Azura, ministering to crew and passengers. He reflects on his time on board.

Words by Fr David

Usually, at this time, I would be preparing for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter either in a parish (or two) …but this year has been quite different – with my Holy Week being spent on the cruise ship MV Azura – an unusual way to spend this most holiest of weeks, and yet an incredibly blessed week too! 

I arrived in Valletta, Malta on Maundy Thursday to meet the Azura. The Azura is the biggest vessel I have ever seen (pictured) with approximately 2,000 passengers onboard and 1,000 crew.

From Valletta, we journeyed around the Mediterranean celebrating the Triduum and the beginning of Easter week along the way. 

As I arrived onboard the ship, I was immediately greeted with such great warmth and welcome by the crew. The crew members – predominately from South India and the Philippines – were delighted that a priest was with them at this time.

They immediately asked if Mass could be celebrated that evening for they hadn’t the opportunity to go to Mass since Christmas. Can you imagine!!!

“Of course” came my humbled reply “what time were you thinking?” They looked at me and said, “Would 11:30pm be ok? We are not off duty until then.” And so, our Triduum began…. 

Each day I had the privilege to celebrate early Mass with the passengers before their organised tours and last thing at night with the crew.

Both celebrations contrasting in numbers, style and representation…and yet equally special with people from both parts of the vessel bringing their joys, concerns and challenges to the celebration of the Eucharist. 

For myself too, it has been such a blessing and pleasure to celebrate the Triduum in this most unusual of places and to experience first hard, such great witnesses of faith. Faith of people on board away from their families and homes on contracts of between 6-10 months of duration.

It is hard to give one highlight at this stage, but the Easter Vigil has to be up there. In this holiest of nights, over 200 crew came to celebrate our Lord – the Light of the World – who dispels all darkness and conquers sin and death. An experience I will never forget! 

Please continue to keep seafarers in your prayers and if you can, please help Stella Maris in its outreach and support to seafarers from around the world who enter our shores.