Trouble in Paradise. What’s Wrong With This Picture?

“Our Haitians brothers and sisters are trapped in the misery of their earthquake nightmare while luxury cruise ships still dock at private beaches there!”

That was the comment I made on my Facebook page yesterday. I included a link to this story: “Cruise Ships Still Find a Haitian Berth.” I have a problem with that.

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? In Luke 10:25-37 we see that he stopped what he was doing in order to attend to the urgent need of the man who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. Whatever errand he was on, whatever legitimately important thing he needed to attend to, he stopped what he was doing so that he could do something even more important. And in so doing, as we read in the Gospel, it cost him money to do so.

Lots of people responded to my FB post, some with disgust, others with a reminder that at least the cruise ships in question are doing something to help. Here is my follow-up post explaining why I still see this cruise-ship-cavorting-in-Haiti situation as a problem that goes beyond bad taste and potentially negative PR for the cruise lines:

Thanks, everyone, for your good and insightful comments on this. The reason I chose that article to link to is (as some of you noted) because it includes “the rest of the story,” about how the cruise lines are doing something to help. That needs to be said.

However . . . there is still a serious problem with all this. The stricken people of Haiti are experiencing excruciating suffering on an enormous scale a short distance away from where others are resting comfortably in the arms of luxury.

In my estimation, it poses more than just a problem of bad taste for the cruise ships to continue docking in “safe” parts of Haiti. I don’t think they should.

By way of an analogy, it’s kind of like this:

Imagine that your house burned down and half your family was incinerated. You have nowhere to go, because you’re poor and destitute, so you camp out in the ruins of your yard and smoldering house.

You’ve stacked the charred bodies of your dead family members (children, spouse, etc.) in a corner of your yard hoping that someone will arrive to assist you in burying them. And you wait, miserable, hungry, injured, and grief-stricken.

And then . . . your neighbors (a few of whom have thoughtfully stopped by to bring you a box of doughnuts, a jug of water, and a blanket) go forward with their plans for the neighborhood block party.

The date for the party was set months ago, mind you, and everyone has gone to trouble to save the date on their schedules, so nothing can be done about it except to have the party.

And so, while you huddle in anguish, waiting for rescue, your neighbors on either side and across the street from you have their merry block-party, which abounds with plenty of succulent food, tasty beverages, music, and all-around bonhomie.

All of this is happening right near you and your burned out house and the stack of your family’s corpses in the corner.

So . . . given all of the above, do you think your neighbors are doing the right thing? Or is there something better they could be doing instead of throwing their block party?

My problem with the cruise lines is not that they are catering to their guests’ bought-and-paid-for right to a week of fun in the sun. That’s what cruise lines do. My complaint against them is that they are choosing a far lesser good than the one they should and could choose, it seems to me.

See also this article in the NY Times (photo credit: NY Times).

And let’s not forget these solemn words of Christ about just this sort of thing:

And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty.

And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:

Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting (Matt. 25:31-46).


  1. Ashley Collins

    Wow. It's an incredibly distasteful tragedy the way humans can sink so low! God bless all those who are there in Haiti to really help!

  2. Micaela

    It comes down to the sadly disgusting "indifference" to suffering and 'tragedies' that people can have to such a devastating situation happening before their very eyes, ears, hands, and feet. There is a much wider reality here than just docking a ship in an area of devastation -handing money out to help, while enjoying their ‘one-stop-shop’ in Haiti, and continuing the vacation. There is a HUGE "spiritual poverty" happening here These cruise liners and people who dont see much wrong here yet the problem is exactly their action of indifference…They assume that some money, business exchanges-through tourism (even if they hand out huge boxes of food out there) is going to help and then excuse their blissful-comfort-pleasure filled vacation as they enjoy their time while these people from Haiti have nothing but death, suffering and struggle at that very moment and for years to come….due to this horrific earthquake of a disaster…. The Hatians have no home. The cruise liners have more than one, not to mention their worriless-situation and their comfort filled life.I can clearly see where the cruise liners and their passengers hearts and minds are…..while they bask in their alcohol-tutti fruiti beverages, barbecues, swimming, jet-skiing, zero-suffering-100% comfort seeking moments. Their minds are certainly in line with "indifference"…..and that is the spiritual poverty of it all. I pray for those cruise liner-planners and passengers as much as I pray for those suffering in Haiti.

  3. Kindred Spirit

    I have only two words to add to yours, Patrick: Dives and Lazarus.

  4. Howard

    My biggest problem with this story is the fact that they are taking up space at the docks that could be used by ships involved in the relief effort. I'd rather see a US Navy hospital ship docked there, for instance.

  5. Allan Wafkowski

    Patrick, if you wanted to make a point about poverty and the injustice of the distribution of wealth, perhaps you should have begun with your own country whose economic system is predicated on greed. I suspect the cruise ship was well on its way to this stopover port when the disaster struck. It merely make a scheduled landing. Why does it stop on a private beach? Because it is not safe to stop at a public Haitian port. From the U.S. State Department Haitian travel advisory: Travel in Haiti can be dangerous and all visitors are urged to exercise vigilance and caution. In some cities and towns ordinary services such as water, electricity, police protection and government services are either very limited or unavailable. While a U.N. force has provided assistance to police in Haiti since 2004, their presence does not guarantee absolute security for residents or visitors.

  6. Patrick Madrid

    Rubbish, Allan. Perhaps you should have begun with the substance of my post rather than make gratuitous comments about sins of America, which are well-known, not being disputed by anyone here, and not the focus of this blog post. You've entirely missed the point.

  7. Allan Wafkowski

    Patrick, I'm having difficulty finding the substance in your post. These facts in the article you referred to:100% of the proceeds from the call at Labadee would be donated to the relief effort.Forty pallets of rice, beans, powdered milk, water, and canned foods were delivered on Friday, and a further 80 are due and 16 on two subsequent shipsRoyal Caribbean has also pledged $1m to the relief effort and will spend part of that helping 200 Haitian crew membersThe company recently spent $55m updating Labadee. It employs 230 Haitians and the firm estimates 300 more benefit from the marketmake Royal Caribbean appear more like heroes than villains. I really don't believe the passengers are in any position to personally do any good other than pray. Some may have been insensitive, by some were certainly not. They made there travel plans months before the disaster struck. Why do you condemn them? What did they do to so anger you?We are all going to die, some by horrible death, and some with the comforts of the sacraments and loving family around their bedside. If there was a point to be made, it is the certainty of death and judgement, and the need to be ready for it when it comes. What you gave out was little more than misplaced anger at people you do not know, for doing things that are morally neutral.

  8. Mike Fears

    The idea that cruise lines should continue their Haitian stops during this period is absolutely stunning. When I told the people in my office about this they initially didn't believe me. Profit is necessary for business, but so is integrity. I hope this story has a long run and customers are fully aware of this "business as usual" approach to huminatarian need.

  9. Brian

    Amen, Brother Pat. You continue to amaze me with your insight and clear moral leadership on these types of issues. Your good and loyal friend,The Suffering Servant of Cardona

  10. crazylikeknoxes

    I so tire of "at least" morality, as in "at least they are doing something to help." We have a fourteen-year-old at home. When we scold her for a bad grade or not doing some chore, we hear "at least I'm not drugs." That was not the standart set by Christ.

  11. Michael Pakaluk

    It's an interesting question, but things seem more complicated than portrayed. When there is a disaster anywhere, life always goes on nearby. We can agree that those "near" the victims should show respect and refrain from luxuries, but is Labadie actually "near" Port-au-Prince in that sense? 60 miles is a long way in Haiti, and the difference between the main city and the county is huge in most nations (60 miles outside of Mexico City is like another universe). (I know that I might get flak from some people simply for even trying to say a word in defense of one side of this question.)One might also wonder whether the people at Labadie who earn money from the cruise ships agree that they should give up a couple of weeks' wages for what is essentially an act of symbolism.Also, it's hard to disentangle these criticisms about luxury ships docking after an earthquake from criticisms of luxury ships generally. Notice how they are not disentangled in the articles–and with good reason, because conditions in Haiti and other poor nations visited by cruise ships are never very good.But do you want to say that no Christian who works hard and gives money generously could ever justify going on a cruise which stops at a poor country? Or that poor nations should not welcome the tourism of cruise ships and its economic benefits? Or perhaps that we should act like the characters and Babette's Feast, and, if we go on a cruise, act like we're not enjoying it?Also, if one rejects cruise ships, then one needs to reject luxury hotels, because in most developing countries these are side-by-side with grinding poverty, and restaurants, and much tourism.These difficulties,it seems to me, are either difficulties of personal choice, and then they are right or wrong on the basis of the character and intentions of the persons who are involved, or they are structural, and then they need to be evaluated as social and economic structures, and reformed accordingly. But the articles you cite seem to confuse these dimensions.

  12. adriano-araujo

    Why he is not fishing?

  13. Michael

    What is you solution?

  14. Anneg

    I am having trouble figuring out what the problem is. The cruise line built the port, employees people, brings in direct aid for the disaster. What is the problem?

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