A container ship crosses the Gulf of Suez towards the Red Sea before entering the Suez Canal A container ship crosses the Gulf of Suez towards the Red Sea before entering the Suez Canal 

Cardinal Czerny: Seafarers face ‘injustice, exploitation, and inequality'

In a message for Sea Sunday, Cardinal Michael Czerny writes that seafarers experience the “boundless beauty” of the seas, as well as their “physical, spiritual, and social darkness”.

By Joseph Tulloch

On the second Sunday of July every year, the Catholic Church celebrates Sea Sunday, praying and advocating for seafarers.

In advance of this year’s celebration, Cardinal Michael Czerny, the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, has released a message reflecting on the forgotten labour of seafarers.

Injustices, exploitation, and inequality

Cardinal Czerny begins by noting that the total number of all those involved in the shipping industry – from the crews of the ships to dockworkers, the coastguard to customs agents – is surely in the many millions.

It is through the “hidden efforts” of these workers, Czerny writes, that many of our daily necessities reach us.

And yet, he says, “Today as well as in the past, seafaring can entail absence from home and land, for months and even years. Both the seafarers and their families may miss significant moments in the other’s life.”

In addition, Cardinal Czerny says, many seafarers are “threatened by injustices, exploitation, and inequality.”

Statue of Mary 'Star of the Sea'
Statue of Mary 'Star of the Sea'

Stella Maris

The Cardinal then moves on to discuss the Catholic Church’s seafarer’s ministry, by means of which volunteers and chaplains provide pastoral support to those in the shipping industry and advocate for their rights.

The Catholic Church’s Apostleship of the Sea – known as ‘Stella Maris’, or ‘Star of the Sea’, an ancient Marian title – is present in hundreds of ports worldwide.

This “ministry of the sea”, the Cardinal writes, can “help to bring the peripheral into the centre” in many ways: by “encountering the people of the sea in person and in prayer; improving the material and spiritual conditions of labourers; advocating for the dignity and rights of workers; and championing strengthened international relations and policies”.

The sea in Christian history

In the second half of his message, Cardinal Czerny turns to consider two episodes in the Church’s history that are intimately connected with the sea.

Firstly, he discusses the journey St Paul – who spent much of his time travelling by sea, spreading the Church’s message – to the port town of Corinth. He gained a large following there, but, Czerny says, these new Christians were soon divided amongst themselves.

St Paul’s First Letter to Corinthians, which addresses this division, is, the Cardinal writes, an encouragement to “the Church today to work for increased unity, not only among people who are different from each other, but also among people who are experiencing division and mutual tensions.”

Secondly, Cardinal Czerny considers the fact that the sea has often been the means by which Christianity has spread throughout the globe.

“The Church today”, he writes, “can draw inspiration from the inhabitants of shoreside communities who were the first to hear the utterly new message of Christ from seafaring apostles and other missionaries.”

“We cannot”, Cardinal Czerny concludes, “be open to life’s possibilities if we prefer the comforts of the familiar.”

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24 June 2024, 12:00