Approximately 400,000 seafarers and marine personnel are currently cut off at the sea, due to the COVID-19 constrictions. Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, has appealed for their safe passage home.
As the Catholic Church marks 100 years of its ministry to seafarers, The Vatican is calling on international, national organizations, governments, and port authorities to cooperate and put together “special channels” to make way for safe and secure crew changes, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disturb the world.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery, Promoting Integral Human Development said “We would like to see the seafarers stranded at sea back in their countries and reunited with their love ones,”
Travel constraints, borders closure, and quarantine measures due to the pandemic, he noted, gave way to a humanitarian emergency crisis at sea. He said, “It is estimated that more than 400,000 seafarers and marine personnel are currently stranded at sea, their contracts extended far more than the 11-months limit set out in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), away from their loved ones, under mental stress and physical fatigue.”
He made several appeals to bishops, promoters, regional coordinators, national directors, chaplains, and volunteers of the Catholic Church’s ministry in a letter to seafarers worldwide called the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), whose centers at ports are known as Stella Maris.
The Vatican officially issued the letter of the 25th World Congress of the Stella Maris/Apostleship of the Sea and the Centenary Celebration and scheduled it for October 4th in Glasgow, Scotland, where it all began. But because of the pandemic, the celebration too is taking place online.
The Apostleship of the Sea, which ministers to seafarers, regardless of their nationality, belief, sex or race, was born during a meeting in a Catholic Institute in Cochrane Street, Glasgow, on October 4, 1920. Pope Pius XI blessed and approved the first Constitution of AoS in a letter dated 22 April 1922. Successive popes have always encouraged the growth of this Apostolate.
A century later, hundreds of chaplains and many more volunteers present in around 300 ports, are carrying out at least 70,000 ship visits a year and reaching out and serving to more than a million seafarers. Cardinal Turkson showcased his gratitude for the countless ‘Apostles’ of all nationalities who through the decades have spent their lives with dedication and commitment in different ports of the world, in the service of the people of the sea.
The cardinal saw that the maritime industry has changed immensely with larger and computerized ships, manned by a multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-religious crew. Also that the dangers such as crime, abandonment, piracy, and the pandemic have increased the fatigue, the stress, and the isolation of the mariners. The AoS has also adopted new technologies to communicate the material and spiritual needs of the mariners, fishers, and their loved ones.
Cardinal Turkson said “While the designs and structures of ports have changed, the needs of the seafarers and fishers have not. Every time they dock, they yearn to contact their families, to seek advice for contractual problems or simply they would like to talk. Despite the restrictions of COVID-19, the substance of the service of AoS should be essentially a ‘ministry of presence’.”
The cardinal further prompted them to “make use of all the instruments that the technology offers us to be present in the lives of the people of the sea offering friendship, support, encouragement, and continuous prayers.”