If you were asked to name occupations that were most essential to daily life, your list might include doctors, police and fire officers, farmers and other food producers. But would you ever think of including seafarers?
Most of us probably never give a thought to the world’s 1.5m seafarers. This isn’t surprising, as they exist in a hidden, semi-nomadic world. Seafarers can spend months at sea and when they visit a port they might only be anchored there for a few hours.
Yet without seafarers, many of the goods we buy in our shops wouldn’t be available. Just take a look around your kitchen. The chances are that your cooker, washing machine, those tomatoes, that coffee, have all come by sea. And probably your TV and computer as well.
July 9 marks this year’s Sea Sunday, when the Church asks us to pray for seafarers and support the work of Apostleship of the Sea, whose chaplains and ship visitors provide practical and pastoral help in ports in the north-east and around Britain.
AoS is a small charity that relies of the generosity of Catholics to help it continue its work. That’s why there is a second collection every Sea Sunday.
When AoS port chaplains go on board a ship they always ask the crew the same question – can I help in any way? Sometimes a seafarer might need transport to local shops, a mobile phone top-up card or access to the internet to contact their family back home, or, in the winter, warm clothing.
Other times seafarers might need a listening ear. Being away from your family for months on end can put a strain on marriages and lead to a deep sense of isolation or loneliness.
“As you leave a ship you will often hear, ‘Thank you for your visit.’ I often think I’ve done little but whatever we do is appreciated,” said Deacon Peter Barrigan, the Apostleship of the Sea port chaplain for Tees and Hartlepool.
Even in the North East, which has a long and proud maritime history, many people know little about what goes on inside a port, he added.
“It’s a bit of a hidden world, even though every day there are ships lying off the Tees, waiting to enter the port to load or discharge. It’s not as if the members of the public can wander into the port and then pop onto a ship to have a look around.
“Part of my role is to let people know about the life of a seafarer. When I explain to them what’s happens on board the vast majority of people are fascinated.”
Please support your parish’s Sea Sunday celebration and second collection.
For more information about how you can help the charity’s work, visit www.apostleshipofthesea.org.uk.