Evangelizing Seafarers

By Fr Seán Coyle

Father Arsenio ‘Dodo’ Redulla from Bohol, now a priest of the Diocese of Lubbock, Texas, USA, worked for some years with the Columbans in Ireland. Early one Sunday morning he was driving out of the small southeastern port city of Waterford to celebrate Mass in a nearby town and to speak about the work of the Columbans. As we say in Ireland, ‘There wasn’t a sinner to be seen’ – the Irish aren’t early risers on Sunday morning – except for a young Filipino thumbing a lift. At the time there were very few Filipinos in the country and Father ‘Dodo’ was the only Filipino priest there. Of course, he stopped. To his amazement the young man said, ‘I was hoping someone would take me to a church for Mass.’ His ship had just docked and he had never been in Ireland before.

I’ve told that story many times doing mission appeals in Britain. On one occasion a young man came to me after Mass and thanked me for it. He was from the West Indies but a member of the British Royal Navy. The late Fr Albert Hayes OFM Cap, port chaplain in Dublin for some years, told me that whenever a ship with a Philippine crew docked they asked for the priest and, if possible, for Mass onboard.

This happens not only in Dublin, as a story from the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) page of the website of the Diocese of Middlesbrough, http://www.middlesbrough-diocese.org.uk/organisations/apofs/, in the northwest of England shows:

The merchant vessel Maple Ridge recently visited Teesport. The crew were all Filipino and therefore all Catholic. The AOS was able to provide Filipino news, local information, transport to town on more than one occasion, a supply of books and videos and, most importantly, was able to arrange Mass on board whilst the ship was alongside. In addition we also provided a new woolly hat, knitted by local parishioners, to all members of the crew and arranged to email the Filipino News to the ship each day no matter where it is in the world. As in all situations the ship soon left the port and headed for the Far East. But a few days later the following email message was received:

Good Day

We have arrived in Singapore safely and on the voyage didn’t experience any bad weather; we thank God for guiding us. Thank you for all your prayers. We stay here until Sunday before going to Korea. I am receiving the news daily and my crew is very happy when they read news from the Philippines.

May God bless all at Stella Maris (AOS) always.

Your Brother in Christ,

Captain Bernado Empleo,

MV Maple Ridge

The AOS was founded in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1922 and following a blessing from Pope Pius XI, spread rapidly around the world. It started as a lay-led ship-visiting ministry to seafarers but, following an Apostolic Letter in 1958, it became part of the mainstream pastoral care of the Church. It’s now under the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Workers.http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants/.

One lay AOS chaplain is Tony McAvoy, pictured on our front cover with Vincent, a Filipino seafarer. He writes about the photo and his work:

The picture was taken in June 2003 during one of my visits to the roll-on roll-off ferry 'Norstream' which sails three times a week between my home port of Teesport and Zeebrugge in Belgium. Through regular visits I’m able to get to know the eight Filipino crewmembers, who change over time, quite well, and send them news by email each day, do shopping for them, provide prayer books, rosaries and occasionally when they are allowed free time, take them to Mass or to town. I got to know Vincent quite well. The AOS National Office used his picture on our Sea Sunday collection envelopes in 2004. (Sea Sunday is held every July in Great Britain with collections at all churches for AOS). In 2005 they used the same photograph but left me in the picture also. Vincent has now left the ferries and seems unlikely to return, perhaps having decided to join a deep sea vessel.

AOS Coordinators from nine regions around the world held their annual meeting on 31 January and 1 February in the Vatican. Their final statement pointed out that matters hadn’t really improved and that there were new dangers ‘such as piracy, criminalization of sea folk, restrictions to come on land, greater stress and fatigue, which have created a deterioration of the human environment.’

According to a paper by Maruja M.B. Asis of the Scalabrini Migration Center-Philippines, www.smc.org.ph, published on the website of the Migrant Policy Institute, www.migrationinformation.org, some 20 percent of all OFWs leaving the country every year are seafarers. Filipinos dominate the industry: 25 percent of the world's 1.25 million seafarers are from thePhilippines. Greg B. Macabenta in The Manila Times, www.manilatimes.net, on 6 May, gives a figure of 28.5 percent. He quotes from a Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) report in 2001 a showing that less than half of 400,000 registered Filipino seafarers are employed internationally. Life is hard for those who have jobs and for those who don’t.

The poem of Arman Enriquez and Neil Verocel, Pangarap at Pamilya, printed elsewhere, expresses the loneliness, hope, courage and love for their families of our OFWs who work at sea. It can also remind us that the pastoral mission of the Church involves evangelizing seafarers so that, like the young Filipino in faraway Waterford, they will become, in another sense, evangelizing seafarers.