This Sunday (12 July) is Sea Sunday, an opportunity to recognise the important work being done by seafarers across the world. The theme for this year is “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28)
We only have to look around us, in our homes and in our work, to recognise the many commodities that are brought to our shores by cargo ships. In fact, over 95% of global trade is carried by ships. As an island nation, we in Australia are heavily reliant on ships and the commodities they bring to us for our survival.
The Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) ministry has recognised this reality and concerns itself totally with the welfare and pastoral care of seafarers who crew these ships. In almost every country bound by sea, there exists a community of people who care for seafarers, fishers and their families. The Stella Maris Apostolate has, for the past 100 years, responded to seafarers’ needs and has advocated on their behalf regardless of their colour or creed.
By anyone’s standards, seafarers are burdened more than most other workers. They are in need, especially at this time of the pandemic, of the rest that Jesus promises in this year's Gospel theme. They are burdened by isolation, loneliness, exploitation, wage theft, climatic hardship, abuse (physical, sexual and verbal), fear of piracy and insecure employment.
During this COVID-19 period, all these burdens have been exacerbated leading to extreme stress on seafarers working on cargo and cruise ships globally. Much has been reported in the media about the Ruby Princess cruise ship and the plight of seafarers on that vessel.
Likewise, seafarers are stranded on both cargo and cruise vessels all over the world at this time. Thousands of the seafarers have already been onboard working for 14 months straight, way beyond the end of their contract due to closed borders and COVID-19 restrictions. We have heard of a frightening increase in suicides onboard ships.
In June, Pope Francis sent a message of support to maritime personnel and seafarers, acknowledging their important contributions to the movement of essential goods during this time of the pandemic.
'Know that you are not alone and that you are not forgotten,' Pope Francis said. 'Your work at sea often keeps you apart from others, but you are close to me in my thoughts and prayers, and in those of your chaplains and the volunteers of Stella Maris.'
These sentiments were echoed by Bishop Bosco Puthur, the Bishop Promoter of Apostleship of the Sea Australia
, who has also sent a special message to seafarers in the lead up to Sea Sunday. 'This virus respects no country’s borders... I pray that you will receive good guidance and support to keep you safe and well in these uncertain times.'
Roslyn Rajasingam, National Director of Apostleship of the Sea Australia, says the seafarers are grateful for the ongoing support of Stella Maris. 'Since the March lockdown, seafarers were not allowed on shore leave so they would contact our centre managers and chaplains if they needed spiritual support or if they needed SIM cards and goods to be bought from supermarkets or computer/digital stores.
The seafarers were grateful for the care packs our centres provided for them at the height of the pandemic. Their friends and family also contact us on social media to report any problems the seafarers experienced on their ships. They know we are there to support them.'
The Stella Maris ministry is dependent on donations both financial and in kind. The annual Sea Sunday appeal encourages the Catholic community to acknowledge seafarers as the essential workers they are and to respond by giving back something to them in gratitude for all the sacrifices they endure to make our lives more comfortable.