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Providing comfort in times of distress at sea

By Gregg Watts

Last year, when the container ship CMA CGM Africa Four called at the port of Tilbury in Essex, the crew contacted the seafarers’ centre and asked for Mass to be said on board and for the ship to be blessed.

Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) port chaplain Wojciech Holub visited the ship to meet the seafarers. ‘The men, Filipino and Romanian nationals, seemed very anxious and were desperate for a service to be held,’ he said.

‘I asked them what was troubling them and it turned out that, while they were berthing in Dakar, Senegal, a sailor who was lining a small boat had got caught by the propeller and was pulled underwater.

‘His body was recovered three days later. The crew were left upset and distressed by the incident.’

Wojciech made arrangements for Mass but it could not be held because the ship had to leave earlier than its original time of departure.

So he contacted Fr Jorgedy Bago, the AoS port chaplain in Antwerp, where the ship was sailing to next, so Mass could be celebrated on board the ship when it arrived.

‘There was a sense of relief among the crew after Mass was said and the blessing given,’ said Fr Jorgedy. ‘They were really comforted to have a chaplain on board. They also spoke about their families back home and life on board the ship. The captain was so thankful and asked for holy water to be provided.’

AoS development director John Green said, ‘At the heart of the container industry are the crews on the ships who, day in, day out, keep it moving in all sorts of conditions. For nearly 100 years, AoS has provided port chaplains to look after the welfare of these seafarers.

‘Although ships and ports have become more automated and crew are looked after well with access to communication facilities and shore leave, they still need access to welfare and emotional support to nurture friendships and attend to their spiritual needs.

‘We’re able to make use of our network of global chaplains to ensure continuous support for seafarers’ who need it no matter which port in the world they find themselves in.’

As Catholics, at times we can take the sacraments and our local parish for granted. But Catholic seafarers can go for months without any contact with the life of the Church. This is where AoS comes in.

Sea Sunday is 8th July this year, when the Church asks us to pray for seafarers and support the work of AoS, whose chaplains and ship visitors provide practical and pastoral help in ports around the coast of Britain. AoS is unique in being the only Catholic agency serving the maritime industry.