As we prepare to celebrate Sea Sunday on July 14, we look at the work of Stella Maris, the Apostleship of the Sea…

As Catholics in England, we take it for granted that we can always get to Mass somewhere. If you’re a Catholic working at sea, however, it can be months before you set foot inside a church.

Seafarers live an almost nomadic life, spending weeks or months at sea, away from their homeland and their families. And when they visit a port, because of the fast turnaround of ships as owners seek to maximise profits, they are often only there for a few hours.

Without seafarers, we wouldn’t have the things many of us rely on in daily life – cars, computers, phones, fuel and food all arrives in the UK on ships.

Many of the world’s 1.5m seafarers are Catholic, with a third of them coming from the Philippines, and many others from India’s two most Catholic regions, Goa and Kerala.

Peter Barrigan, Stella Maris, Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) port chaplain to Tees Port, knows how important it is to help them nourish their faith and feel that the Church has not forgotten them.

Peter responded to an urgent request from the captain for Mass on board the Echo Nemesis after one of its crew received tragic news from home.

He phoned Father James Angus, of St Patrick’s in Hartlepool, who agreed to celebrate Mass on board. The following morning, he accompanied Peter and volunteer ship visitors Hugh and Mary Ward to the ship.

After the Mass, the captain told Peter it was the first time in 20 years at sea that he had had Mass on board a ship and he later sent an email expressing his thanks.

He wrote: “On behalf of officers and crew of Eco Nemesis, we give thanks for your presence and kindness. We really appreciated your great effort and your boundless commitment to seafarers.”

Twelve days later, the ship was back in North Tees, so Hugh and Mary visited the crew again and found the atmosphere on board was much brighter.

“We visited a very happy vessel and had a great hour with the crew,” said Hugh. “The captain was pleased to see us. Eight crew members were in the mess room. The captain repeatedly thanked us for the Mass.”

Seafarers are one of the marginalised groups Pope Francis has spoken about. On July 14 we celebrate Sea Sunday, when the Church asks us to support the vital and often unrecognised work AoS does in the maritime world.

Brian Denley, a former seafarer, and who has been an AoS ship visitor on the Tees for the last 30 years, said: “Faith sustains seafarers during long periods of separation from their loved ones.

“They often work long hours in arduous and dangerous conditions for poor wages in ships where the crew’s welfare is well down on the ship owner’s list of priorities. And sometimes just the presence of a port chaplain is a comfort to a lonely seafarer.”

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