By Linda Bordoni
Today is Sea Sunday. It’s a day set aside each year to remember and pray for seafarers, their families and all who support them.
Pope Francis marked the occasion with a tweet saying that he is praying for seafarers and fishermen them and their families, and encouraging every effort to protect and safeguard their human rights.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development issued a message calling on “International Organizations together with proper government authorities and the different players of the maritime world to renew their efforts to protect and safeguard the rights of all people working at sea”.
The crucial role of seafarers in our lives
Highlighting the crucial role of seafarers in our daily lives, thanks to whose work we receive most of the possessions we have in our houses, “not to mention the fuel for our cars, the clothes we wear, and many other items are all made in distant parts of the world and brought to us by seafarers” Cardinal Turkson said it is proper that we pause for a moment to reflect how important and crucial seafarers are for our comfort and well-being.
For this reason, he notes, in various Christian Churches around the world the second Sunday of July is traditionally set aside as Sea Sunday. A day in which “the faithful are requested to remember and pray for the 1.5 million seafarers who criss-cross the oceans and the seas, transporting almost 90% of goods from one nation to another”.
Seafarers live lives of challenges and hardships
Cardinal Turkson remarked on how for months at a time, seafarers live in confined spaces, away from their families and loved ones and deal with issues such as delayed salaries, tough working conditions, the threat of piracy and even terrorist attacks.
He said that in the case of maritime accidents, seafarers are often criminalized and detained without effective legalprotection and the benefit of fair treatment, and noted that “in a precarious mix of nationalities, cultures and religions the opportunities to interact socially with reduced number of crewmembers on board have diminished,” while “isolation and depression, combined with a lack of a supportive environment, affects the mental health of seafarers, sometimes with tragic and heartbreaking consequences for their families, crewmembers and ship-owners”.
Conventions and legislation
While acknowledging that ratification and implementation of several international Conventions and legislation have improved working and living conditions on board a great number of commercial vessels, the Cardinal says that there are many cases in which “unscrupulous ship owners take advantage of less stringent enforcement of the law”.
Appeal for protection of rights
Cardinal Turkson goes on to reiterate his call “on International Organizations together with proper government authorities and the different players of the maritime world to renew their efforts to protect and safeguard the rights of all people working at sea”.
He also offers encouragement to the chaplains and volunteers of Stella Maris/Apostleship of the Sea, urging them to “be vigilant and approach each seafarer and fisherman with the same committed spirit that animated the pioneers of our ministry when almost hundred years ago, on 4th October 1920, they decided to revive and restructure the widespread ministry of the Catholic Church for the people of the sea”.
Speak the language of Christian love
“In the faces of seafarers from different nations,” he says, “I invite you to recognize the face of Christ in your midst. In the confusion of languages, I recommend you to speak the language of Christian love that welcomes everyone and excludes no one.”
And quoting from Pope Francis, the Cardinal says: Confronted with abuses, I urge you not be afraid to denounce injustices and advocate “to work together to build the common good and a new humanism of work, to promote work that respects the dignity of the person who does not only look at profit or production needs but promotes a dignified life knowing that the good of the people and the good of the company go hand in hand.”