This year, on 4 October, Glasgow, Scotland was intended to be the site of the 25th World Congress and the Centennial Celebration of Stella Maris, but like so many others, the event was sidelined by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Instead of welcoming participants and delivering his planned discourse, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, published a letter to celebrate the centenary of the organization which was initially organized in Glasgow 100 years ago by a group of lay people who, he observed, “felt they were ‘Apostles’ entrusted with a mission from the Church “to reveal Christ to those who go down the sea in ships, and do business in great waters, with the object of bringing them to a deeper knowledge of Christ and his Church”. On the 17 April 1922 the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS), originally the Sailors’ Branch of the Apostleship of Prayer, received “the approval and encouragement” of Pope Pius XI, who wished that “so noble an enterprise” would “spread more and more along the shores of both hemispheres...”.
One hundred years later, Cardinal Turkson noted, “we can say without doubt that the desire of Pope Pius XI, supported and sustained by the all-succeeding Pontiffs, is a wonderful reality, with hundreds of chaplains and many more volunteers present in around 300 ports, carrying out at least 70,000 ship visits a year and reaching out to more than a million seafarers”. He noted the centenary year as an occasion “to give thanks for the countless ‘Apostles’ of all nationalities who with dedication and commitment in different ports of the world, since the beginning of this ministry, have spent their lives at the service of the people of the sea and now have reached the safe harbor of heaven”.
The Cardinal recalled the words of Benedict XVI, who encouraged members to “be apostles faithful to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, show the loving face of the Church which also welcomes and makes herself close to this portion of the People of God; respond without hesitation to maritime people who wait for you on board to appease the deep longing of their soul and make them feel active members of the community”.
Many changes have come about through the years, such as “larger and computerized ships, manned by smaller multinational, multicultural and multireligious crew, docking in ports far away from cities. These circumstances”, Cardinal Turkson recalled, “together with piracy, criminalization, abandonment and lastly the Covid-19 have increased the stress, the fatigue and the isolation of the crew”. Thus “today more than before, in charting the future of our Apostolate, we are called to be open to the Spirit of renewal and find new ways and means to be the Church sailing with the people of the sea”.
Cardinal Turkson also took the opportunity to describe the new Stella Maris logo which, after 100 years, “has been redesigned to respond to the signs of the time … by affirming our Catholic roots and maintaining the distinctive symbolism of the past. The logo”, he said, “is not only a nice sticker but it represents our unity and common identity, it should be our guide and source of our inspiration for our commitment at the service of the maritime world:
— The anchor is the symbol of Hope. We are called to be bring Hope, in a world of despair of isolation.
— The lifesaver is the symbol of Faith. We have to announce the Christian Faith, to nourish and strengthen the trust in the Lord, of many Catholic crew members.
— The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the symbol of Charity. We should show Charity to welcome everyone without prejudice for their nationality, race, gender, religious or cultural background, always respecting the person’s culture and religion.
— The rays of light is the symbol of the Light of Christ. We must shine the light of Christ to denounce a world of injustices, abuses and the exploitation.
And a new element: the waves of the sea, highlighting the new conscience of caring for the sea, as the environment in which the people of the sea live and work”.
Cardinal Turkson emphasized that, although the service of the AOS “is a global one and is constituted by a worldwide network of Centers, the practical implementation of maritime pastoral ministry in any region, nation, diocese or port, is the responsibility of the local Church”. Thus all Bishops’ Conferences are invited “to appoint a Bishop Promoter responsible to foster the care for the people of the sea in the country”, while the bishops of maritime dioceses are asked “to appoint chaplains and consider the seafaring ministry an integral part of the pastoral responsibilities of the diocese and the parishes located near the ports to see that people of the sea are provided abundantly with whatever is required to lead a holy life”.
In the context of the pandemic and its related restrictions, he noted, “our practical way of ministering has changed dramatically, but what should not change is the substance of our service that is a ‘ministry of presence’”. Thus he encourages members to “make use of all the instruments that the technology offers us to be present in the lives of the people of the sea offering friendship, support, encouragement and continuous prayers”. The Cardinal observed that prayer was “an essential part of the development of our apostolate. Looking at the future, if we would like to continue grow, as a maritime welfare organization, [it] is vital to rediscover the significance of prayers and the creation of support groups to strengthen the commitment and dedication of our chaplains and volunteers”.
Lastly, on behalf of Stella Maris, Cardinal Turkson expressed solidarity with the more than 300,000 seafarers and marine personnel who are stranded at sea, suffering the humanitarian crisis due to the “travel restrictions, border closures and quarantine measures imposed by many governments in response to the Covid-19 pandemic”. Indeed many seafarers have had “their contracts extended far more than the 11-months limit set out in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), away from their loved ones, under mental stress and physical fatigue”. Thus, he urged “governments together with international, national organizations and port authorities to cooperate to solve this dramatic situation” so that we may “see the seafarers stranded at sea back in their countries and reunited with their love ones!”.
Before offering the Centenary prayer to Mary Star of the Sea, Cardinal Turkson asked that, “personally or with the people of the sea, let us pray that in the maritime world, our Apostolate will continue to be a beacon of hope and a secure port for seafarers, fishers and their families, for many years more”.