A Catholic chaplain scrambled to save the Blessed Sacrament before fleeing the sinking Costa Concordia cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea on January 13.
The Catholic Herald is reporting Fr. Rafaeli Mallena, 70, who served as chaplain aboard the doomed ship, described what he experienced during his final moments on board to during his to Fr. Giacomo Martino, director of the Apostolate of the Sea for the Italian bishops’ conference.
From the moment the first explosion was heard during dinner, Fr Rafaeli said, “he felt immediately that something was very, very wrong”, according to Fr Giacomo.
Realizing the ship was in trouble, Fr. Rafaeli said the two things he thought to do first were to protect the Blessed Sacrament and then secure valuables which the staff had entrusted to him.
After the first explosion, he went to the chapel where he prayed for about 40 minutes before the “abandon ship” alarm began to sound. He immediately consumed the Blessed Sacrament, and then locked the staff’s valuables in a safe.
At this point, the ship’s 4,200 passengers were in chaos. Fr. Rafaeli tried to stay aboard to help with the evacuation but the crew insisted that he board one of the life boats and abandon the ship.
Fr. Rafaeli, who is now recovering from his ordeal in Rome, was, “very upset because as the first interviews came out, everyone was saying that the crew was not taking care of passengers and so on,” Fr. Giacomo said.
However, Fr. Rafaeli claimed, “. . . (I) am a personal witness of people leaving their families and children and I saw personal sacrifice. There was a staff captain, for example, who saved three or four people who could not swim.”
Fr Giacomo described other heroic efforts by staff, which were related to him by survivors, to the Herald. One case involved the ship’s hotel director who remained onboard until the very end. He was attempting to board one of the last lifeboats when he fell and broke his leg. The man remained inside the listing ship for 36 hours before being discovered.
Fr Giacomo said: “A bad reaction from some individuals is not the whole truth. The truth is that almost everyone is understood to have behaved wonderfully. Most people were totally dedicated to saving others.”
A significant Catholic presence was aboard the ship at the time of the accident with a large contingent of Filipinos making up almost a third of the passengers.
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