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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 99, December 2005



AOS Pastoral Care in Cruise ShipS





Vatican City, 4th October 2005


Dear regional Coordinators and participants, 

In response to your suggestions I am glad that we have been able to organise this consultation meeting on AOS Pastoral Care in the Cruise Ship sector. I send the cordial greetings of our Pontifical Council to you all, who have come to Dunkirk in order to share and discuss your various experiences and formulate proposals regarding this sector with a view to better coordinate the national programmes.

As we said in our invitation letter, we are all aware that the Cruise Ships is the fastest developing sector of the maritime industry and we have only to consult the figures available to realise that it constitutes a huge challenge to our apostolate. The sector is growing at the rate of 12% per year, it has more than 150,000 employees and there are more about 120,000 cruise ship workers at sea at any given time. It is estimated that each year there are 11 million passengers travelling on Cruise ships. We are witnessing today, the introduction of huge ships with a capacity of 3500 passengers and 1500 crew. The larger cruise companies are based in the USA, the United Kingdom, Italy and Norway. It augurs well for this consultation that most of these countries and many of the major ports of call are represented at this meeting.

It would be unthinkable that a permanent Cruise ship chaplain should embark without preparation and training. It is of the utmost importance that he should know the environment in which he is called to exercise his pastoral responsibilities and that his pastoral efforts take into consideration the specificities of this “milieu”. 

Today, Cruise ships are organized much like floating hotels, with a complete "hospitality staff" in addition to the usual ship's crew. It is not uncommon also for the most luxurious ships to have more personnel than passengers. The ship is like a small town and this does not go without problems, it has all the advantages but also the weakneeses of a community, with a large spectrum of individuals, obliged to live and earn its living at very close quarters. It has a hierarchy, strict discipline and we might say different “social classes”.

  • Most of the workers working in restaurants, bars, cabins and loading areas come from poor countries of Latin America, Asia and Central/Eastern Europe. Women are mainly in non-technical services such as hotel work and catering. The crews are very mixed: they come from different ethnic origin and their social, religious and cultural backgrounds are very diverse. This can add considerable stress to normal “community living”.
  • The workers have contracts that run as long as 12 months. Most work 10  months, followed by a two-month vacation. They then return for another 10 months. This means long separations from family and friends, with sometime serious consequences on family and social life. 
  • Employees commonly work 10 to 13 hours a day, seven days a week. Basic remuneration is low, and they depend on tips. Fatigue is a recurrent problem.
  • On ships onboard mafias are often found; those seeking better workstations must pay (or bribe) their colleagues.
  • Sexual harassment is another big problem. Many instances go unreported, as the victim is afraid to put his/her job in jeopardy.

On the other hand most of the managers and officers come from industrialized countries and are of “European” origin. They enjoy advantages and facilities that the other crew coming from poor countries do not have. It is true that we must consider that those in command must possess a high degree of competence as they have enormous responsibilities: given the size of the ship and the number of passengers and crew on board, any incident, not properly controlled or managed, could degenerate and cause great loss of life and damage to the environment. Nevertheless, the fact remain that there are differences of treatment which are not readily understood and which can be deeply resented by the less privileged workers.

It would only be fair, however, to admit that all these situations are not necessarily of the making of the Cruising companies and that many companies are trying to bring their “operation standards” up to “various maritime regulations and social accountability standards”. In this connection I could quote the opinion of our ecumenical colleagues of the Centre for Seafarers’ Rights, “that poor working and living conditions for cruise ship employees are largely a thing of the past.”

The Cruise Ministry Brochure draft of AOS-UK asks the question whether a cruise ship is a single unit or single community? To that it could be answered that a cruise ship is made of three very distinct communities consisting of the crew, the hospitality personnel and the passengers. A chaplain is sent to the crew, the hospitality staff and the passengers; he is equally committed to serve all three categories while being aware that each category has different needs and expectations. Sent to them, the chaplain’s mission is to give testimony of Christ and of his Church at all times, especially through the celebration of the sacraments; open to the new evangelisation, he must be capable of empathy with the crew and passengers, respectful of their diverse cultures, tradition and religion, but conscious of his mission and identity. He should also be a man of proven ecumenical convictions, able to cooperate and appreciate chaplains of other denominations.

Among other items that you will discuss among yourselves, I suggest that you also examine several questions that have been noted during regional meetings or visits from chaplains, namely:

Formation and Training

Screening of candidates for onboard chaplaincies

Entering into contracts with Cruise companies: advantages and disadvantages.

Cooperation with local Stella Maris/parishes in the port of calls.

Guidelines to the local Stella Maris regarding the specific needs of cruise personnel and passengers.

The status of the “On-board Chaplain”, possible conflict of interests.

The accompaniment and support of seagoing chaplains.

 Lay Ministers of the Eucharist and spiritual leaders on board.

However it should be remembered that any decision or proposed policy that falls outside the responsibility, in a certain nation, of an AOS structure, must first be submitted to AOS-International for discussion and approval before being implemented.

Surely you will be thinking about follow-ups to this meeting. In this connection our Pontifical Council is of the opinion that it would not be opportune to create another permanent committee. We think that it would be sufficient that from time to time, when the opportunity presents itself and that there is a true necessity, also to save expenses, a meeting may be called back to back with another one. This opinion is further motivated by the necessity to preserve the unity among the different AOS sub-sectors, while insisting on the role of AOS Regional Coordinators, responsible for all of them at their levels.

We wish you all a very pleasant and fruitful meeting as we invoke on you and your collaborators and families the protection of the Stella Maris and God’s blessing. 


Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao





                                                               + Archbishop Agostino Marchetto