Pilgrim people: Orlando's unique tourism ministry

Visitors to the theme parks are probably aware of Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Queen of the Universe near Disney World. But there’s even more in that popular vacation region.

A look at this unique ministry in Florida Catholic:

The Apostleship of the Sea ministers to crew members and passengers of the cruise ships at Port Canaveral. Missionaries of La Salette Father Robert Susann ministers to travelers and staff at Orlando International Airport.

The Apostleship of the Sea is a ministry for the spiritual and practical assistance of seafarers, regardless of their religious affiliation or country of origin. It is the only ministry actually located on the port.

Bishop Emeritus Norbert M. Dorsey established the Apostleship of the Sea Center in 2000. Deacon William T. Wanca and Servite Father Carl Feil serve the seafarers.

“On average, we probably have 1,000 people coming through the center a month,” Deacon Wanca said. “It’s like a revolving door. We’re constantly with people in and out of the place.”

The Apostleship of the Sea ministers to body and soul. The center offers a bank of computers with Internet access so people can send email messages. The computers also are equipped with Skype, which enables video calling, instant messaging and regular telephone service.

“It’s nice they can have a video chat with their families,” Deacon Wanca said.

The center is Wi-Fi capable for visitors with their own laptops. A bank of telephones is available and phone cards can also be purchased at the center. The center provides money-wiring services as well.

“We have a small ship store where they can buy snacks like they would find in their home countries,” Deacon Wanca added.

Although crew members account for much of the center’s traffic, passengers often attend the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, celebrated by Father Feil. Masses can be arranged during the week by requests from crew members.

Deacon Wanca recalls a young lady from the Philippines who came in as he was preparing for a liturgy and Communion service. She inquired about the service and indicated her interest in attending.

“After services were over, I noticed she was a little bit emotional. I sat with her and asked her if anything was wrong at home. There was no problem she wanted to talk about. She said she had just learned about our center from a friend and that we offered Catholic services. She said it had been six months since she was able to get to church to receive Communion, and today was kind of special to her because it was her 21st birthday.

“I said (to myself) this is what we’re supposed to be doing. This is what it’s all about,” Deacon Wanca said.

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And: lest we forget, there’s a website that offers Mass Times all over the country for vacationers.