Seafarers live an almost nomadic existence, sailing vast distances across the sea from one port to another and often being away from their families for months. For the Catholics among them, this means not being able to go to Mass.
As well as providing practical help to seafarers, Stella Maris, Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) port chaplains also try to support them in their faith. A high percentage of seafarers today come from Catholic regions of the world, such as the Philippines and Goa in India. But the few hours many ships spend in port means there is no chance to attend Mass at a local church.
Last November, Fr Colum Kelly, an AoS port chaplain in Immingham, Lincolnshire, was asked by the crew of the cargo ship The Star Nina to celebrate Mass on board after their captain died of a heart attack. The vessel had been at anchorage near Immingham.
“We were waiting for them to come in to Immingham to berth, so we could help. It was a very sad and difficult time for them. They had been at anchorage for over a month, plus their voyage from Brazil meant they had been at sea for a month and a half,” said Fr Colum. “Not only did we pray for the deceased captain but also his family and indeed the crew, who were all deeply traumatised by this sad event. They were so thankful that we could organise Mass for them.”
The ship had continued to be kept at anchorage for 11 days after the captain’s death. “The acting captain said that the crew were told this was due to ‘berth congestion and priority cargo’. Doesn’t that say something awful about the treatment of seafarers even in the midst of tragedy? Their need was determined by what they were carrying in the ship’s hold,” said Fr Colum.
It’s common nowadays for contracts on a ship to be for a year or longer. “When seafarers are at sea, they are out of touch with families and their only opportunity of contact is when they come ashore. However, in many countries shore leave is not permitted and so family contact is missed. Living away from home for such long periods brings its own problems of isolation. Family problems at home take on a different perspective from a distant part of the world.”
On 14 July (Sea Sunday) the Church asks us to support the work of AoS and port chaplains like Fr Colum. Seafarers might appear remote from our lives, but, in fact, we all depend on them. Around 90% of goods imported to the UK come by ship. AoS exists to let seafarers know they are not forgotten.
For more information visit: www.apostleshipofthesea.org.uk.