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Priest describes moment cruise ship ran aground

By on Monday, 16 January 2012

Luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a rocky outcrop off the Italian island of Giglio (Photo: PA)

Luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a rocky outcrop off the Italian island of Giglio (Photo: PA)

A Catholic chaplain aboard the sinking Costa Concordia rushed to consume the Eucharist in an attempt to protect it as the cruise liner began to sink on Friday night.

Fr Rafaeli Mallena, 70, described his ordeal to Fr Giacomo Martino, director of the Apostleship of the Sea for the Italian bishops’ conference.

He said as he realised the ship was in serious peril he had two things at the forefront of his mind: protecting the valuables, which the staff had entrusted to him, and protecting the Blessed Sacrament.

When the first explosion was heard during dinner, Fr Mallena said, “he felt immediately that something was very, very wrong”, according to Fr Martino. He immediately went to the chapel to pray and 40 minutes later, when he realised the “abandon ship” alarm was sounding, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables, including jewellery and money, in a safe.

As chaos ensued among the 4,200 passengers aboard, the priest tried to stay aboard in an effort to help but he was persuaded by crew members that it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the sinking ship.

Fr Giacomo Martino said that Fr Mallena had now returned to Rome where he was recovering from his ordeal.

He said that Fr Mallena 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. But 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 Martino told The Catholic Herald that he had heard from survivors about a hotel director who remained bravely until the very end. He was going to take the very last lifeboat when he fell down the stairs and broke his leg. He remained inside the ship floating in cold water for 36 hours before he was discovered.

Fr Martino 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.”

Fr Martino estimated that there will have been a significant Catholic presence aboard the Costa Concordia due to a large number of Filipinos, meaning that almost a third of passengers were Catholic.

He said that Fr Mallena has told him “10 times over” since arriving back in Rome that he has the key to the ship’s safe and as soon it is recovered he will make sure that crew members receive the valuables that he took such care to protect.

  • Anonymous

    “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” St. John 6:55

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps he should have been made captain instead.

  • “Don Carlos”

    Fr. Rafaeli’s strong faith and immediate actions reflect the best of Catholic service under stress, and is something well worth emulating by all Catholics and Christians.  God Bless you, Father!

  • Marisa

    Whats more beautiful than truth.  What a great article. God was truly with them and everyone did a great job in helping each other. Grande’  

  • tradcatmomo9

    Thank God there are good and holy priests.  

  • Jimbart76

    Great to read this story.  God bless Father Mallena.

  • Shannon Robles

    Fr. was a true hero…God Bless him!!!

  • 4joachim


  • T.Han

    Fantastic article!

  • Tena

    Wow, great to hear of a courageous priest for this generation.
    This situation reminds me of the RMS Titanic disaster, back in 1912. There was a priest onboard that ship too, Father Thomas Byles. He was valiant in the face of fortitude as well. You can learn more about him here:

  • cory josue

     Accidents like this happen all the time and I seeing it from his perspective gives a different angle all over. Even if the crew members are all well-trained in offshore training and physical stamina, no one can really face the wrath of Mother Nature.