We pray for all those who work and live from the sea, among them sailors, fishermen and their families.
When he prepared tis month’s prayer intention, Pope Francis cannot have foreseen the hundreds of seafarers who could not get home when their cruise ships were quarantined off shore, passengers gone, wages unpaid, flights home non-existent, welcome on dry land not forthcoming, family contacts eventually by mobile phone, thanks to port chaplains.
But we can pray for them, and for all the sailors and lorry drivers who ferry food and goods around the world and across the Channel, and all those in peril on the sea.
This is taken from a news release by Stella Maris, the International Catholic Apostolate to seafarers. It tells not only of the regular day-to-day work of port chaplains, but also of the grave dangers faced by sailors in the course of their duties. I was struck by the picture of crew members not being allowed to land because of visa restrictions. As if they were less than human; yet they endure long months away from their loved ones in order to keep bread on the family table and to educate their children.
Deacon John Archer, Stella Maris port chaplain in Mobile, USA, has spoken of meeting the crew of the cargo ship that was attacked near the port of Douala with eight crew kidnapped.
West African pirates attacked the general cargo ship MarMalaita in the dead of night at anchor near the port of Douala, Cameroon. “It’s shocking to hear that the crew of the MarMalaita are still being held captive after the ship had been attacked.’ said Deacon Archer. ‘The vessel was in Mobile for a few months running between Mexico and Mobile and I got to know the Chief Cook during their short visits to Mobile and I knew they were heading to the coast of Africa. I’d been on board the ship a number of times. On my last visit I did what I usually do, such as asking the crew if they wanted to visit the town, go shopping, or offer to shop for those unable to go ashore due to visa restrictions.’
The International Maritime Bureau recently noted that of the 75 seafarers around the world who were kidnapped and taken hostage for ransom in the first six months of 2019, 62 were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea.
Paul Rosenblum, Stella Maris North America regional coordinator said ‘this kidnapping highlights the high price that can be paid by seafarers when things go wrong. This tragedy is a reminder of the dangers seafarers face each day to bring us the various goods and food we rely on’
The abducted crew are from Russia, the Philippines and Ukraine.
John Green, Stella Maris director of development said ‘Today our thoughts and prayers are very much with those who are still being held captive and their families’.
What is it about Docks and Ports? Dover, East End of London, and now Fishguard? Things happen there, as they do at railway stations.
Fishguard, one of the ports to go to Ireland, is tucked into this rocky Welsh shore, not far from St David’s. I introduced readers to the late John Byrne a year ago last month; he was a highly respected Irish railway modeller.
He was also a retired sea captain. When we were in Pembrokeshire I sent him a photo of the Ferry arriving in port; he recognised her at once, saying she was not built for the Irish Sea and the Atlantic swells, but for the enclosed Mediterranean or the Baltic, and gave many a rough ride when the wind was up.
I wonder how it was for Saint Nôn and her son David, forced into exile when he was little, voyaging on a tiny boat across the very sea that John’s big ship was so ill-equipped for?
Let us remember in our prayers all those in peril on the sea, especially those trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. Like the one used to make the Lampedusa Cross. And remember, too, the crews who spend months at sea, rarely able to call home, ill-paid, forgotten by us consumers who depend on their hard work.
The train’s dirty window enhanced the gloom: the person I was meant to be meeting was ‘in a bad place’; it was cold, grey and drizzling. The English Channel was cold and grey. Brrr.
Break, break, break: I thought of Tennyson’s lines.
Break, break, break,
On thy cold grey stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
The rest of the world gets on with life, but we may well feel speechless, heartbroken. Break, break, break!
And he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. And when he was gone forward a little, he fell flat on the ground; and he prayed, that if it might be, the hour might pass from him. And he saith: Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee: remove this chalice from me; but not what I will, but what thou wilt.
Let’s remember the broken-hearted and remember, too, seafarers, far from home, and the Apostleship of the Sea who take care of them in port.
The Catholic seafarers’ charity Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) supports seafarers regardless of their religion or beliefs. John Pinhay, AoS port chaplain in Fowey, Cornwall, went on board a ship called the Skagenbank over the Christmas period to visit its crew and give out presents.
The crew members were very busy but John was welcomed by the ship’s chief engineer who in turn introduced John to Radjo Muhammad, the cook. Radjo received the Christmas gifts on the crews’ behalf, and he and John got talking about a multitude of topics.
“After a long conversation and a coffee, Radjo mentioned that he was a practising Muslim who respected all believers in God,” said John.
As John was about to leave he asked Radjo if he wanted to join in a prayer and this the seafarer readily did. Prayers were offered up for the safe passage of the crew and eventual safe return home to family and friends. John said, “It was a very memorable experience and a good opportunity to live out Pope Francis’ call to engage in meaningful dialogue and friendship with our brethren of other religions.”
The Apostleship of the Sea, AoS, is a registered charity and agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England & Wales and Scotland. It is wholly reliant on voluntary donations and legacies to continue its work.
90% of world trade is transported by ship, and more than 100,000 ships visit British ports each year. However the life of a modern seafarer can be dangerous and lonely. They may spend up to a year at a time away from home, separated from their family and loved ones, often working in harsh conditions.