Stella Maris: Star of the Sea
By: Fr. Ray T. Saber, MSC
All Sea Farers
The Apostleship of the Sea is a Catholic institution based in Palazzo San Calisto, Vatican City. In many major seaports of the world this institution has branches popularly known among seafarers as “Stella Maris.” The Apostleship of the sea aims to promote the pastoral care of the maritime people. The term maritime people, means “all those who go down to the sea in ships.” This includes all seafarers.
In Inchon City, the Apostleship of the Sea got started on February 19, 1991. The bishops of Inchon, most Rev. William J. Mc Naughton, appointed me Fr. Raymond Sabio, as full-time chaplain of the Apostleship of the Sea. I am a Filipino member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Parenthecally, Stella Maris- Pusan started 4 years earlier. The chaplain is Fr. Pedro C. Arguillas, MSC.
Vital to this apostolate is ship visitation. Through this activity, the chaplain is in direct contact with the seafarers themselves. He acquires a first hand knowledge of the living condition as well as the problems (if there are any) on board. Some of the problems are: non-payment salary ( 3 or 4 months); insufficient food; lack of fire fighting equipment; un seaworthy vessel; absence of heating system in winter. Moreover, there are also personal and family problems that complicate further situation. When the going becomes very rough, a seafarer loses his sense of concentration. In this case, accidents could happen.
One Thing in Mind...Money
Pastoral counseling helps sort out the personal, psychological and family problems of the seafarers. Some could easily resolved; the others are somewhat serious. In one extreme case, a seafarer had to be repatriated after having lost his sanity. Time chartered ships demand a lot of work. Cargo should be unloaded as quickly as possible so that the ships could depart for the next destination. Once, a seafarer told me, “This company has one thing in mind...money. Our physical and mental health is not their priority.”
Visitation of hospitalized seafarers is also important. Being hospitalized in a foreign land is not the best thing that could happen to anyone. Some seafarers lost their limbs; others suffered third degree burns. The absence of an acquaintance and family members exacerbates not only his painful condition but also his loneliness, what with the language barrier present!
The celebration of the Holy Mass and other sacraments on board the ship is very much appreciated. I witnessed many expressions of deep faith. Some seafarers shed tears during the Holy Mass. Others expressed their feelings of gratitude, “Father, it is so good of you to take time out to be with us, and avail us with Holy Mass. We are spiritually refreshed. Our last Mass was 6 months ago.” I never heard such comments in my past years of priestly ministry to land- based Christian.
Few months earlier, we set June 14, 1992 as the date for SEAFARERS’ SUMMER BIG DAY in Inchon. With the great assistance of the Harbor Workers’ Apostolate headed by Mr. Alex Lee and the United Seamen’s Service under the dictatorship of Mr. Charlie Wong, preparations were made.
On the date itself, the Bishop of Inchon, His Excellency Most Rev. William J. McNaughton, presided over the celebration of the Holy Mass, assisted by myself (parish priest of Yong-jong). The solemnity of the occasion touched the hearts of about 200 persons who showed up for the occasion. The subsequent activities of snacks, musical program, folk dance, singing contest and raffles made the day a very memorable one for the seafarers, their acquaintances and friends.
One Foot in the Grave
Seafarers deserve our respect, appreciation and whole hearted service. In order to bring the goods of the world to our doorsteps, they have risked their lives. As one seafarers said, “The moment a seafarers boards the ship, he has one foot in the grave.”