By Lydia O'Kane
The Stella Maris apostolate is active in over three hundred ports worldwide, offering spiritual and material assistance to sailors, fishermen and their often distant families.
Indeed, it was Pope Pius XI who wanted the apostolate to extend its mission to the oceans and the shores of every continent.
National Directors, Chaplains and volunteers have been attending their European Regional Meeting in Rome this week, which included an audience with Pope Francis on Thursday.
Greeting the participants gathered in the Vatican, the Pope told them that “without sailors, the global economy would come to a standstill; and without fishermen, many parts of the world would starve.”
He also asked those present to convey his esteem and encouragement to all the sailors and fishermen they come across in their work.
In his prepared words Pope Francis noted that, “the life of a sailor or fisherman is not only marked by isolation and distance.”
Challenges at Sea
At times, he continued, “it is also painfully affected by shameful experiences of abuse and injustice, by the snares of those engaged in human trafficking, and by the extortion of forced labour.”
At other times, the Pontiff added, “they are not paid their rightful salary or are left behind in distant ports.”
He also pointed out that in addition to threats from nature, they also faced human threats, such as piracy or terrorist attacks.
Bringing the Good News
As chaplains and volunteers of Stella Maris, the Pope said, “you have been entrusted with the mission of presence, bringing the Good News of the Lord Jesus to the complex and varied world of seafaring.”
“With compassion and discretion”, Pope Francis underlined, “you give them a chance to pour out their hearts. This is the first and most precious service that you provide, above all to those who have few similar opportunities”, he said.
The art of listening
The Pope stressed that “listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders”. That listening, he added, can then lead to action.
Pope Francis encouraged those present and all chaplains and volunteers of Stella Maris to redouble your efforts “to confront issues that are all too often the fruit of human greed.”
The fruits of human greed
He highlighted in particular: human trafficking, forced labour and violations of the human and labour rights of so many men and women who live and work on the seas.
“Through your service, you can help restore to these persons their sense of dignity”, he said.
In particular, he invited Chaplains to be merciful to those sailors who come to them with difficulties of conscience which causes them much suffering.
In conclusion the Pope urged the group present to persevere in commitment to their apostolate, following the fine example of all those in the past.
He also expressed the hope that the celebration of their centenary next year would be “an occasion to remember the past in order to discern the present and to look ahead to the future.”