VATICAN CITY, FEB. 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The figure of the seafarer, so often forgotten by society, needs the support of the Church, said the president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.
Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglió stated this Monday as he opened a three-day meeting of the International Fishing Committee and regional coordinators of the Apostleship of the Sea.
The meeting, which took place in the Vatican’s St. Calixtus Palace, has a special significance this year, proclaimed by the International Maritime Organization as the “Year of the Seafarer.”
The archbishop acknowledged the 1.5 million seamen who work daily to provide for the needs of the more than 6.5 billion people worldwide, “a reality which unfortunately is ignored and taken for granted by the majority of humanity.”
He noted that “this special year will give the international community the opportunity to confirm publicly the importance and uniqueness of the contribution made by seamen to the well-being of society, and to acknowledge the risk they run in the exercise of their profession, in a frequently dangerous environment.”
In 2010 more than ever, the prelate added, the Apostleship of the Sea “must unite its efforts to those of the International Maritime Organization with initiatives and activities, renewing its commitment to be attentive to the needs of seamen and their families, ensuring that they have decent conditions of work and life, and that they are assisted when they are abandoned in port.”
Seamen “must have the possibility to disembark where security measures are more rigid; they must be protected when they work in areas infested by pirates and must not be unjustly criminalized,” he asserted.
Archbishop Veglio pointed out that this year is also the 90th anniversary of the Apostleship of the Sea, which first met in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 4, 1920. On that day, he said, “a small group of laymen and a religious brother met, so to speak, on the high seas, to establish the exact mission of this newborn organization in favor of Catholic seamen.”
An anniversary, he explained, is above all “an occasion to find again the original spirit and the enthusiasm that guided the founders.”
He added that it is also an invitation “to reflect on the basic and essential elements of our apostolate, to develop new pastoral strategies in harmony with our tradition and to improve the structures so as to continue, with efficacy, the work of the Apostleship of the Sea in the coming years.”
Recognizing that the organization “will have to face a rather active navigation,” the prelate called for greater “responsiveness” on the part of “the episcopal conferences” and a greater involvement of the local churches in the pastoral care of seamen and their families.
Among the difficulties facing this apostolate, he mentioned the “decrease in the number of priests and consecrated persons willing to assume responsibilities and to give spiritual assistance” to the apostleship.
The archbishop also expressed concern about a decrease in financial assistance from charitable organizations which, together with the world economic crisis “has obliged many centers for seamen to close or to reduce their activities considerably.”
In this context, he said, it is necessary “to try new ways and forms to sustain our ministry but also, wherever possible, to favor ecumenical cooperation by sharing resources and collaborating more with civil maritime organizations for assistance.”