ORLANDO | In mid-March, the World Health Organization classified the epidemic of COVID-19 as a pandemic.
With worldwide ramifications connected with the highly contagious respiratory disease, Catholic leaders that minister to international populations have been on extra alert to needs of those they serve. That is especially true in Florida, which is home to some of the busiest seaports.
Apostleship of the Sea has 230 chaplains in over 300 ports across 41 countries worldwide serving the spiritual and physical needs of seafarers from all over the world. One of its ministers is Father Peter Lin, who is a chaplain with the Apostleship of the Sea for the Archdiocese of Miami. His role is to represent the Catholic Church and work at the seafarers house at Florida’s the Port of Everglades.
Seafarers include cruise ship workers, who have been especially affected by the virus as some cases of the coronavirus has been linked to passage on cruise ships. The outbreak has hurt them as some have been quarantined on ships, they might be exposed to the virus in a closed environment, and as they cruise industry is suffering in the aftermath of the virus, their work and finances could be struggling.
As a minister in his apostolate, Father Lin works at the Port Everglades Seafarers’ House — also known as the “Casa.” He described it as an ecumenical place since several chaplains from different denominations “work together as one family to support the physical and spiritual need of the sea workers.”
“In the Seafarers house, we host nearly 150,000 crew visits each year, more than any other agency in North America, and provide visiting mariners with practical care and spiritual support. Our 4,200-square-foot facility offers mariners a chapel, access to chaplains, free Wi-Fi to connect with loved ones at home, wire transfer services, an international convenience store, and a place to relax,” he wrote in an email to the Florida Catholic. “We are proud to be a multi-faith organization. Our pastoral care team represents faiths from around the world. We are proud to serve the international seafaring community, doing our part to improve their quality of life, serve their needs, and tell their story.
At press time, the administrative offices for the apostleship at Port Everglades and its “Casa” were open and fully operational. The center is always cleaned and sanitized, and at this time there is special attention to make sure anyone in the center washing their hands while there and keep special care of communal spaces.
Father Lin said that he is seeing a typical number of seafarers who seek service and support. But he reported they have temporarily canceled the regular ship visiting on boards.
“Our pastoral care team is contacting vessels to offer assistance and provide for their needs, but we are not conducting our regular fellowship visits on board unless specifically requested by a captain or if there is a critical care situation on board,” Father Lin wrote. “Our administrative staff is currently working on site, but if required, we can remain fully operational by working remotely.”
Because there are 42 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Florida, Father Lin said the center follows the practices suggested by the archdiocese in regard to liturgy and services celebrated. This includes the temporary suspension of the communal Sign of Peace (kissing or shaking of hands); holding hands during the recitation/chanting of the Our Father; and greeting before Mass. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion use anti-bacterial soap before and after distribution of the host.