CRUISE ships are a second home for retired Brisbane priest Fr Leo Burke and he is hoping his last trip ending on March 14 will not be his last.
The 80-year-old spent most of February and early March out at sea as a cruise chaplain for the Apostleship of the Sea USA branch, which runs a Cruise Ship Priests program for liners around the globe.
As a chaplain, Fr Burke is available to celebrate daily Mass and confer the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick, as well as spiritual direction to any passengers on board.
A member of the crew is normally appointed as a sacristan for Mass during the entire trip.
Some days Fr Burke will say Mass for more than 100 people, and other times it’s just the captain and the crew.
He has been with people in their darkest moments out at sea.
“One of the crew members on this last cruise, his wife died suddenly back home in Indonesia,” Fr Burke said.
“It wasn’t expected and he was stuck on the ship, and waited three or four days before he could fly home.
“He had a young family so I spent some time with him.”
Fr Burke said it was normal to minister to older people “who fall down stair wells, have heart attacks or flown off the ship suddenly”.
But he has never experienced ministry during a pandemic the likes of COVID-19, at least not on board.
The day Fr Burke’s last cruise docked into Sydney was March 14, the day before the Australian government placed a ban on international cruise ships from sailing into or out of the country for 30 days.
When he returned to his home in Camp Hill, Fr Burke placed himself into self-isolation for 14 days.
He was supposed to board a 14-day cruise sailing out of Yokohama on March 30 but it was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Fr Burke said he knew exactly what passengers who were stuck out at sea were going through.
“Certainly if you’re in one of those inside cabins where the light has to be on permanently, and no window to look out of, I imagine that could be fairly traumatic for people who find themselves in that situation for a long time,” Fr Burke said.
“It doesn’t worry me because I’m only in the cabin for bed and shower, but if you were confined to your cabin especially an inside cabin, it would be traumatic 24/7.”
Fr Burke is booked to sail on another cruise departing Sydney on December 17.