What Seamen Need in the Way of Pastoral Care

Family Atmosphere on Board Seen as Crucial

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ROME, JULY 19, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Pastoral care doesn’t stop at the water’s edge.

In recent years the Holy See has launched, through the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, new apostolates for people on the seas, who often have little access to a parish.

In a Vatican Radio interview, Giacomo Martino, national director of the Italian bishops’ Office of Port and Sea Pastoral Care of the Migrants Foundation, explains how the Gospel can be proclaimed among seamen.

“It is an extremely special environment, based on traditions, norms and also a series of disciplines that a chaplain must know and follow in order to be in touch with people of the sea and to live his own condition as seaman,” Martino said.

Q: Does the apostolate of the sea, then, require specific pastoral care?

Martino: Certainly, because the conditions of life of the person who is on board are very different from those of someone living on land, in particular, because of the impossibility of being in immediate contact with his own family and ecclesial community. Either there is a Church on board or the seaman can go eight to 12 months without going to church.

Q: What are the needs of seamen who are on board for so many months?

Martino: The first need is to create, somehow, a family atmosphere, because by nature man is communal and tends toward the family. Then there is the need to give the crew, which is perfectly organized from the operational point of view, a point of reference as regards free time and their own spirituality –also psychological support to mitigate the frustration of people who are so far from home.

Q: You have experienced what it means to be a chaplain on board. How do you describe the religiosity of seamen?

Martino: In part, it’s like that of others, but in part, different. Different, especially, because on board interreligious dialogue, ecumenism, are endeavors that have been surmounted.

In their gazing on the infinite, in their sacrifice, in their distant homes, people of the sea have a constant appeal to God, to religiosity and spirituality, no matter what their denomination. There are very many Catholics on ships, but even those who are not Catholic request the presence of a chaplain. They look for the presence of the priest as a man of the spirit.

Q: In other words, the sea brings them closer to God?

Martino: At times, their devotion is born in moments of difficulty, of great love, for example, when the sea is especially turbulent. It is an extremely profound devotion. The seaman is a strongly spiritual man who gives time to prayer, regardless of his religion.

Q: In conclusion, what is a ship chaplain?

Martino: The ship chaplain is a priest who has chosen the way of the sea, making himself available to these small, perhaps forgotten groups hidden under the cover of vessels. He is a priest who has the courage to leave a bit of his life and of his heart in the vessels, united to these people.

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