by Rev. Joe Landi

"Where were you when the ship hit the sand" was the topic of conversation at the second seating for dinner. "This is the captain speaking with an up-date on our position" over the PA system interrupted our conversation. Usually his "up-date on our position" had a lot of degrees of latitude and longitude. They hardly commanded much attention from the passengers enjoying their seven day Caribbean Cruise aboard the MS Noordam. However, this announcement brought all conversation to a stop.

We are stuck on a sand-bar a few hundred yards off the coast of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Nine hours of watching groaning tugs trying to push/pull us off our perch had ceased to be interesting. "Great photo-op," observed a passenger videoing the Mexican tugs. Then feigning being gagged by the black smoke the boats were belching added. "What are they burning for fuel in those things—old tires?"

The news from the captain was that our cruise was abruptly ending. We will disembark the Noordam starting at 6:30 a.m. Friday morning, board tenders, and be ferried to shore. From there we will be bussed to the Cancun Airport, flown to Tampa, where the cruise began, and put up in hotels at the expense of Holland America Line. A 35% cash credit now was offered to all passengers or a 50% credit on their next cruise. So began the great disembarking adventure.

Disembarking does not sound like much of a great adventure until you factor in the 1200 or so strangers—some more so than others—comprising the passengers of this cruise. This is an "up-scale" cruise line—meaning a large assortment of luggage, wheel-chairs, walkers, steamer trunks, and souvenirs that would be disembarking, too. The result was not a glamorous sight.

Anxious passengers did not sleep much that last night on board. "Father, should I wear my life jacket to bed," inquired one of the many passengers standing in the corridor sharing their experience at one o’clock in the morning. (We seasoned travelers were returning from the midnight buffet.)

"Not to worry," I assured her. "You needn’t sleep in your lifejacket."

"But Father, we are on a sand bar. When the tide goes out, we could roll over on our side." "Not to worry. The tide’s coming in," I assured her, trying to sound knowledgeable.

In the morning, the crew and the staff handled the evacuation procedure efficiently. I am prejudiced in favor of Holland America because it is the only cruise line that has a priest chaplain on every cruise. In return for celebrating Mass daily we get a free cruise. So I began my first Mass by telling my congregation that they are in Catholic Heaven, which I likened to an eternal cruise on Holland America Line. "There is no first or second collections. The five daily gourmet meals don’t make you put on a pound. And the reason I know it’s a ‘Catholic Heaven’ is that there will be Mass and Jackpot Bingo every day of the cruise."

During the disembarkation, some of the passengers had to be carried down to the tenders for the trip to shore. Some elbowed their way. Most waited patiently, accepting pleasantly their lot, realizing that they had a great story to tell when they returned home. Those few who love to complain, had the time of their life. A minority went way beyond being nasty.

I particularly liked a comment made by a spry and sly elderly "parishioner". "Young man. Are you a Christian?" she asked coldly, interrupting another passenger’s tirade against one of the Indonesian crew. "Because if you are, you certainly aren’t acting like one." He shut up and sat down. The rest of us nearly broke into applause.

Her addressing him as "young man" reminded me of Idella Church, who taught Social Studies at Rio Vista High School. What followed her "young man" was deadly and designed to put teenaged boys in our places. She also was a source of good practical advice. "Girls, if you want a happy home, remember this: whether you are serving beans or steak, serve it with the same panache."

Back in the days when teachers could talk about God in their classrooms without being hauled into court, Miss Church also had some good advice about being Christian. "You are either a Christian or you are not. It’s like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. There is no such thing as being a little bit of either."

When dealing with others, especially with strangers, we should recall what St. Benedict wrote in his Rule: "Let every stranger be received as if he were Christ himself…" and I would add, treated as such. As Christians, ours is the joy of having Christ’s love for us pass through us to others. As Christians, the love we give to others must bear the authentic qualities of Christ’s love—examples abound during his stay with us. Acting as Christians might even qualify for reserved seating in the eternal-life boats.

Fr. Joe Landi is the Editor of the Charismatics, a Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia’s Parish, San Francisco, the Archbishop’s Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, and the Board Chair of Sierra Point Credit Union, South San Francisco. You can e-mail Fr. Landi by clicking here.

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