By Eric Martin
“I was a stranger and you made me welcome.” – Matthew 25:35
The Catholic community will once again show its appreciation for the work of seafarers across the country this Sea Sunday, 14 July.
Stella Maris, also known as Apostleship of the Sea, is the pontifical body with specific pastoral care responsibility for seafarers, sailors and all people who work at sea – with 11 centres around Australia and more than 300 ports in more than 30 countries around the world.
Bishop Bosco Puthur, the Bishop Promoter for the Apostleship of the Sea said: “The Scripture verse that is central to this year’s Sea Sunday comes from Matthew (25:35), where Christ challenges us all with the words: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.”.
Stella Maris chaplains and volunteers visit about 70,000 ships in ports around the world.
Collectively, they speak to ships’ crews, offer friendship, arrange Mass and attend Mass with them, listen to their needs, and provide internet access so they can contact their families.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said: “There are a million seafarers on the high seas, and that’s why the work of Apostleship of the Sea is absolutely vital to caring for seafarers who are often doing it hard, and working under enormous pressure”.
“That’s why I commend to you, whether you have a commercial sea port in your diocese or not, to support the essential mission of the Apostleship of the Sea,” Archbishop Coleridge stated.
Stella Maris reconnects sick or injured seafarers with family and continues to support them until discharged, ensuring personal needs are met where possible.
As a Catholic ministry, seafarers can attend various Stella Maris centres in seaports around Australia and are provided with a range of pastoral care services appropriate to their needs from practical support to providing sacramental ministry.
The annual Sea Sunday Appeal shines a light on the valuable work of the Apostleship of the Sea and highlights the important work of the laity as Apostleship of the Sea volunteers in the ports of Australia.
Roslyn Rajasingam, National Director of the Apostleship of the Sea Australia, said: “Seafarers spend many months in the high seas, away from their homes and missing their families, combating times of loneliness and in constant fear of pirates and bad weather”.
“About 130,000 seafarers arrive at Australian ports each year, which is roughly the size of a city with a population like Darwin and this gives some insight into the importance of our work,” she added.
“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.
“Like 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 who visit Australian ports.
“Please pray for our seafarers and our ministry,” she pleaded.
Recently in a NSW port, a ship’s Filipino Chief Cook died and one of their volunteers attended on-board and spent quality time with the Captain and crew. The following day, at the Captain’s request, the local priest and one of our volunteers provided further support by arranging a Catholic Mass on-board followed by a blessing of the entire vessel.
In another Victorian port, a South-Asian crewmember had his foot amputated due to an accident on the ship – a Stella Maris Ship Visitor supported him in hospital, organised food and arranged for his friends to visit which brought much joy to the injured crewmember.
This work is only possible because of the prayers and generous donations of the Church and the people who remember Stella Maris with a gift in their will – making Sea Sunday an important occasion that reminds all Catholics of the importance of this vital ministry and the resources that are needed to support it.