The World

Sea Sunday, a day to pray for seafarers

This Sunday, July 9, is Sea Sunday, a day to remember so many people who work on ships in different fields, far from their families and sometimes unable to attend the Eucharist.

Loreto Rios-July 9, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Bishop Brendan J. Cahill celebrates Mass for the Filipino crew of the Bow Star, Texas, 2021 ©CNS photo/Rhonda Cummins/courtesy of The Catholic Lighthouse

Sea Sunday has been celebrated every year since 1975 on the second Sunday of July. Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, has published a message for the celebration of this day.

Boats: a means of evangelization

The Cardinal pointed out in his message that, from the beginning, ships have served as a channel of evangelization. "Already from the beginning, the Gospel reached every corner of the world by means of large ships (...). In the Acts of the Apostles, as well as in other writings of the New Testament, we are told, in different ways, how the messengers of the Good News lived and spent their time with the workers of the sea, sometimes even for months, sharing with them a daily life and opening their minds and hearts to the faith". Later, he added: "While the apostles remained on board, they spoke about Jesus to the crews and, when they arrived in the port cities, they gathered the communities: they were thus present in a world that today is less and less known".

On the other hand, the Prefect commented that on this Sunday Catholics all over the world are invited "not to forget our origins" and "to pray for those who are working today on board ships". He also wanted to remember that many people will not be able to celebrate the Eucharist today because they are on board. "To those who are at sea today, we want to send a choral message: the Church is close to you," said the Cardinal.

In conclusion, he asked the Star of the Sea, Mary, to intercede for everyone.

Pastoral care of the sea

One of the most unknown pastoral activities of the Church is the Apostleship of the Sea, which is called "Stella Maris". It is an international organization belonging to the Catholic Church. Although there were Catholic missions that served crews before, the founding of what we know today as the Ministry of the Sea took place in Glasgow in 1920 by Father Egger, Franciscan monk Peter Anson and layman Arthur Gannon. The emblem of Stella Maris depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus on an anchor.

The organization was approved by Pope Pius XI in 1922. For its part, in 1952, in the apostolic constitution Exsul FamilyPope Pius XII laid the foundations for the worldwide structure of the Apostleship of the Sea.

Stella Maris has been present in Spain since 1927. According to the web of the Episcopal Conference, its "objective is to provide seafarers, through its Stella Maris centers, with the human and spiritual assistance they may need for their well-being during their stay in port, as well as support for their families. This activity is carried out in a totally disinterested way and is addressed to all seafarers of any race, nationality and sex, always respecting their culture, religion or ideology. The Stella Maris - Apostleship of the Sea visits the ships and makes itself available to the crew".

For its part, the Stella Maris official website in Spain states that "the pastoral care of the sea in Spain works for the welfare of seafarers, sailors and fishermen from all over the world, seeking to offer a home away from home to all those who arrive in our ports".

Name, Star of the Seais an old way of referring to Mary. In her Apostolic Letter Stella MarisPope John Paul II, in his 1997 Apostleship of the Sea, noted that "'Stella Maris' has long been the preferred title with which the people of the sea have addressed the Virgin Mary, in whose protection they have always trusted. Jesus Christ, her Son, accompanied his disciples on their journeys in boats, helped them in their troubles and calmed their storms. In the same way, the Church accompanies the men of the sea, taking care of the special spiritual needs of those who, for various reasons, live and work in the maritime environment". This apostolic letter was the first specific document on the theme of the maritime apostolate.

It defines what is meant by "seafarers", and gives some guidelines for the pastoral care of the sea, such as, for example, that seafarers are not obliged to observe abstinence or fasting, although they are advised to try to do so on Good Friday. On the other hand, guidelines are also given for the work of chaplains on ships, among others, that "the chaplain of the Work of the Apostleship of the Sea, who is appointed by the competent authority to carry out his ministry on voyages by ship, is obliged to give spiritual assistance to all those who make the voyage, whether by sea, lake or river, from the beginning and until the end of the voyage."

Since 2017, the pastoral care of the sea has been under the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.

Stella Maris in Ukraine

The work of the Apostleship of the Sea has been particularly relevant in crises such as the covid crisis and the invasion of Ukraine. The last bulletin The March 2023 Stella Maris report notes that during the pandemic many crews "spent months unable to disembark or even set foot ashore, with difficulties in communicating with home, sometimes with family members sick with covid, very often with administrative obstacles to return to their countries of origin.

Now, seafarers are facing another crisis with the war in Ukraine. "The Black Sea has become virtually impassable for ships, leaving thousands of seafarers in the crossfire. (...) Stella Maris of Odessa, from the beginning of the war, kept in contact with some ship captains who were in Black Sea ports, assisting them as far as possible and providing assistance in transporting the wives and children of seafarers to the Ukrainian border, for their subsequent evacuation," the same bulletin states.

For its part, Stella Maris in Gdinya (Poland) has hosted in a resort the families of seafarers who were in war zones. "In Barcelona we have found sailors who were disembarking and wished to fly to Poland to be reunited with their families, and Stella Maris has facilitated the purchase of airline tickets, since they could not do so with their credit cards. Offering them our wifi network or sim cards to be able to talk to their families has been and is also an important help. Russian and Ukrainian seafarers often meet together on board the ships, which at certain times will undoubtedly have caused moments of tension. However, on the whole, we have found that the sense of manning has prevailed over the effect of the war (...)," the bulletin states.

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