Dozens of Catholic chaplains and managers who work in Australian ports – and the tens of thousands of people who support their work financially – are being reminded of the scriptural imperative to “always welcome a stranger” as part of Sea Sunday this weekend.
On 8 July, the Catholic Church will celebrate the work of those men and women who work on the seas and those Catholics across the country who minister to seafarers by providing spiritual, social and material support.
The modern history of Catholic outreach to those who work on the seas, whether on merchant, fishing, passenger or war vessels, dates back to the 1890s, with port ministry beginning in earnest almost 100 years ago in Scotland.
The Apostleship of the Sea, centres of which are called Stella Maris, is present in many countries and was supported by Pope Pius XI in 1922.
The Scripture verse that is central to this year’s Sea Sunday comes from the Letter to the
Hebrews (13:2): “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it”.
Bishop Bosco Puthur, the Bishop Promoter for the Apostleship of the Sea in Australia, said while many of those who come ashore have been surrounded by others, they can arrive feeling isolated.
“The men and women who spend weeks or months on end travelling the oceans have often left family and other loved ones behind, and they often don’t have access to their religious practices,” Bishop Puthur said.
“For those people for whom faith is integral to their life, being helped to access the sacraments after a long journey is a source of great comfort and joy.”
Bishop Puthur said the annual Sea Sunday Appeal provides much-needed funding for this Catholic ministry – to seafarers of all faiths and none – in ports across the country.
Apostleship of the Sea national director Roslyn Rajasingam said when one considers the fact that the total of 130,000 seafarers who arrive at Australian ports each year is roughly the same number of people who live in Darwin, it gives some insight into the importance of the work.
“For some of the men and women, it’s the listening ear or the kind word or the shared prayer that reminds them of home and their spiritual centre,” Mrs Rajasingam said.
“Like other chaplains in other important ministries, those who seek to show the face of Jesus at our ports are reliant on and grateful for the generosity of Catholics and other supporters who help us continue this critical outreach to seafarers.”
Mission to seafarers about being a friend
When Patrick Moore was ordained a Permanent Deacon for Perth Archdiocese in 2006, he was asked to take on the care of the Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre in Fremantle – despite having no previous connection with the sea whatsoever.
“I was on a steep learning curve, that’s for sure,” Deacon Patrick said.
“But looking back, I feel I was very fortunate to be asked to do this work.”
Since then, Deacon Patrick has seen hundreds of ships come and go from Fremantle, and has been a helping hand for their crew members.
“It’s fairly simple really,” he says. “We visit the ships, we collect the men from the ships who wish to see us, and we bring them here to the Centre and attend to their needs.
“It’s very practical stuff mostly, but it’s important for the men. Sometimes they might just want somewhere to sit down and relax and have a cup of coffee. It’s a home away from home for them. It’s their place to hang out.”
Life working at sea can be lonely and difficult, says Deacon Patrick. Bullying is common and stress and mental illness rates are high.
“I have a deep respect for the hardship of their lives,” he says.
“Their living and working conditions are often poor and yet they still generally greet us with a smile and they really do appreciate the services they get from the Stella Maris Centre.”
While the seafarers’ needs are often basic, there are other times when they are sick or where a serious incident or a death has occurred at sea, when they might need hospital visits or some spiritual direction and pastoral care.
Patrick recalls one incident when a fire broke out on board a ship while it was in the harbour.
“All the men were ordered off the ship with absolutely nothing,” he says. “They were stressed and worried about what this meant for their future. So, we found them clothing and shoes and rooms in a hotel.
“Really, they just needed friends, and that’s we do, we become a friend. I enjoy that. It’s very satisfying kind of work.”
Edited by Debra Vermeer
Stella Maris Centres welcome enquiries from people interested in volunteering their time to support this ministry.
The Apostleship of the Sea currently ministers in the Ports of Adelaide, Albany, Bell Bay, Brisbane, Broome, Bunbury, Fremantle, Hastings, Mackay, Melbourne, Newcastle and Sydney.
Click Here to read the Message from Cardinal Peter Turkson
For more about the Apostleship of the Sea and Sea Sunday Appeal, visit: http://aos-australia.org/