Welcome to Apostleship
Apostleship of the Sea
The Apostleship of the Sea is the apostolic work of the Catholic Church offering hospitality and pastoral care to the People of the Sea. In almost every country bound by sea there exists a community of people who care for seafarers, fishers and their families regardless of their country or culture.
Caring for Seafarers & Fishers
Beloved, you are faithful in all that you do for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to help them in a way worthy of God as they continue their journey. (3 Jn 1:5-6)
Stella Maris Seafarers' Centers
Arriving in port seafarers and fishers often find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, foreign language, foreign currency, and a different culture. What is familiar is the seafarers' center. A seafarer can come to a port knowing that there is a place where he will be welcomed and cared for.
About Apostleship of the Sea (AOS). . . I was a stranger and you welcomed me"
The Apostleship of the Sea is the Church among the People of the Sea. It is the apostolic work of the Catholic Church caring for seafarers, fishers and their families. We offer pastoral care to those in need; solidarity with the oppressed; welcome and hospitality to those on the move; and spiritual sustenance to the poor, enabling seafarers and fishers to be the light of Christ for each other.
As Jesus washed the feet of His disciples at the last supper to demonstrate, even at the institution of the Eucharist, that the Eucharistic community is committed to hospitality and service, this apostolic work of the Church cares for the people of the sea: for the pastoral, social, and material welfare of all seafarers and fishers regardless of color, race or creed.
Mission to Seafarers
In fulfilling this mission to seafarers, you face a most challenging and difficult task. You are dealing with people who live in a dispersed milieu. They face painful problems, such as separation from family and friends and the resulting feelings of isolation and loneliness; for extended periods of time they live and work at a great distance from a territorial parish. In a real sense, the seafaring world has become a missionary world.
History of the Apostleship of the Sea
In the late 1800's, various Catholic Seamen's Missions were in operation under various auspices, catering for the spiritual, social and material welfare of visiting crews in the ports of London, Bottle, Montreal, New York, New Orleans and Melbourne.
. . . with the certain knowledge that so noble an enterprise, ably seconded by the zeal of priestly souls both secular and regular, will spread more and more along the shores of both hemispheres....
Missionary Work.It is not an accident that seafarer’s centers in ports world-wide have traditionally been referred to as Seamen's Missions. Despite the fact that in those far off days, the percentage of foreigners among seafarers in any port would be fewer by far than now, the missionary dimension of the maritime ministry was not overlooked.
Apostleship of the Sea often works in ecumenical cooperation with other Christian organization which shares the same ideals of justice, solidarity and fraternity, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Apostleship of the Sea in 1968 was a founding-member of the ecumenical International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) which today brings together over 20 member-organizations caring for the people of the sea.
The results of the 1987 ICMA sponsored Seafarers' Survey confirm that a considerable percentage of the seafarers coming into our ports are non Christians, many of whom are open to hearing the Good News, perhaps for the first time.
(Crew members and volunteers @ Stella Maris Maris Chapel & Hospitality Center)
The practical implementation of pastoral care to seafarers & fishermen, and to their families in any region, diocese or port, is the clear responsibility of the local Church. To ensure that this happens, the Norms of the Apostleship of the Sea provide for the appointment at the level of Episcopal Conferences, a special Commission, or at least a Bishop Promoter, to supervise, foster and promote the Apostleship of the Sea. Today many centers use the name Stella Maris Seafarers' Center, a title given to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, our patron.
Stella Maris, is an ancient title for Our Lady, used by seafarers and others associated with the sea.
The Apostleship of the Sea has established many Stella Maris seafarer’s centers and hostels around the world in honour of our patron Our Lady Star of the Sea. Many seafarers have come to know the Apostleship of the Sea as Stella Maris.
The idea of Mary our Mother being a guiding star for People of the Sea has led to special devotion to Our Lady, Star of the Sea in many coastal and fishing communities. Local churches and schools have been dedicated to Our Lady Star of the Sea.
Just as seafarers have traditionally depended on the stars for navigation, so they trust in the protection and guidance of Our Lady Star of the Sea.
Photograph: This Neo-Coptic icon of Our Lady Stella Maris was painted for the Apostleship of the Sea by Dr Stephane René a leading exponent of this sacred artistic tradition in the West.
O Mary, Star of the Sea,
light of every ocean, guide seafarers across all dark and stormy seas that they may reach the haven of peace and light prepared in Him who calmed the sea.
As we set forth upon the oceans of the world and cross the deserts of our time, show us, O Mary, the fruit of your womb, for without your Son we are lost.
Pray that we will never fail on life’s journey, that in heart and mind, in word and deed, in days of turmoil and in days of calm, we will always look to Christ and say, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?”
Our Lady Star of the Sea,
Pray for us. Amen
---Pope John Paul II
Continue to love each other like brothers, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13, 1-2
Watching the sunset from a different part of the globe everyday one might imagine the life of a seafarer has a touch of romance about it, but today nothing could be further from the truth. It is a hard life and seafarers turn to the Stella Maris Seafarers' Centers simply for someone to talk to, laugh in the company of, and cry with.
Seafarers and fishers are of every nationality and language. Though they go to sea for many different reasons many go out of sheer economic desperation, often supporting extended families. They are away from their homes, their families and friends, for months perhaps years on end.
Their whole existence is strenuous often frightening, and a very lonely one. They are family men and women with simple stories to tell. Sometimes the stories are of hope but often they are tales of solitude and despair.
Those who practice charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. Deus Caritas Est Para 31
The Apostleship of the Sea chaplains and pastoral workers visit crews onboard ships in port. For seafarers it is a sign of our interest in them. The Apostleship of the Sea ship visitors report that, with very few exceptions, they are warmly welcomed on board, and their visits are highly appreciated. Ship visitors listen to seafarers. If seafarers have problems, ship visitors offer any assistance possible.
Ship visitors may give other practical help, for example: distributing maps of local services; offering books, videos and DVDs to the crew, and providing transport to shops or seafarers’ centers.
For ships which have groups of Catholics among the crew, ship visitors may arrange for a Chaplain to come onboard for confessions and Holy Mass.
Photograph: Sr. Mary Leahy ship visits in Port Botany, Sydney Australia
Traditionally Stella Maris Centers offered affordable accommodation to visiting seafarers. Many centers around the world still do. However, the pressure to move ships in and out of port as quickly as possible means that some seafarers have very little time ashore. So if the seafarers cannot come to the Stella Maris Center, the Center must go to the seafarers.
The Apostleship of the Sea uses temporary buildings, caravans, even disused containers in the docks themselves in order to provide information and access to telephones or internet. These facilities enable seafarers to communicate with their families even if their time in port is extremely limited. Facilities are often accessible 24 hours a day.
In some Ports where there is restricted movement due to safety, the Stella Maris Seafarers' Centre will arrange for mobile phones to be left on a ship with the captain or a senior officer. This allows seafarers access to a telephone. Then, using phone cards, seafarers can call family & friends.
Photograph: This seafarer is phoning his family from "Room 101" in Sheerness, England. Communications facilities are available to seafarers in an otherwise disused port building accessible by a digital lock. Port chaplains and pastoral workers circulate the code among seafarers and port personnel.
Seafarers’ centers give visiting seafarers the chance to relax in a friendly and safe environment. Centers offer a meeting point and a source of information.
Visiting seafarers are encouraged to communicate with their families by post, telephone or internet, depending on what is available locally. Other services might include: exercise and leisure facilities; shops selling toiletries, phone cards and souvenirs; books and clothing; and a bar, restaurant or cafeteria.
Wherever possible, arrangements are made for Catholic seafarers to receive the sacraments from the chaplain or local parish priest. Most seafarers’ centers have their own chapel or prayer room.
In many countries seafarers’ centers also offer services to local seafarers and to family and community groups. These include orientation courses for new graduates of maritime schools and skills training or support groups for seafarers’ families and wives.
Centers run by the Apostleship of the Sea are traditionally called Stella Maris Centers. In many ports around the world the Apostleship of the Sea works from ecumenical seafarers’ centers in partnership with other Christian churches.
Photograph: A seafarer receives a free haircut at the Stella Maris Center in Barcelona where the service is available every Friday night.
Sustaining faith, nurturing spirituality and working for the dignity of all seafarers All People of the Sea have spiritual needs whatever their cultural and religious background. The Apostleship of the Sea promotes the moral and cultural values inherited from home communities. Harsh living and working conditions sometimes challenge these values.
The Apostleship of the Sea takes an holistic approach, treating seafarers as whole persons with needs in both body and soul. The Apostleship of the Sea is committed to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. However ICMA does not support churches or sects which have aggressive recruitment policies and wish to gain access to seafarers for conversion purposes.
The Apostleship of the Sea works for unity, peace and tolerance. We respect and value other religious beliefs. Chaplains and ship visitors approach seafarers as friends offering spiritual support on the seafarers’ own terms. Around the world, the Apostleship of the Sea assists visiting seafarers to fulfill their spiritual needs. Typically this includes: making contact with priests or ministers of religion; transport to places of worship; and distributing spiritual literature suitable for interreligious use.
Keeping the faith, living it on land and sea is not an easy challenge for anyone. The Apostleship of the Sea supports Catholic seafarers in their faith in a multitude of ways, including transport to Mass at seafarers’ centers or local parishes; arranging Mass or Eucharistic services onboard ship; distribution of literature and faith articles such as rosaries and icons.
Photograph: Fr José Juan Cervantes celebrates the Eucharist onboard a petrol tanker in the port of Buenos Aires. The celebration was attended by Catholic and Orthodox members of the crew.
The sea is vital to us all with 90% of all world trade being carried by sea. This gives work to more than 1.25 million seafarers. 41 million people make their living from fishing. For many in third world countries their entire existence is dependant on the sea.
By the nature of their work, seafarers spend weeks or months at a time at sea. This separates them from their families and communities who, by association, are People of the Sea. The income gained from seafaring can bring benefits to all. But all must endure the long periods of separation, communication difficulties and uncertainties of the seafaring life.
Coastal communities, including those engaged in coastal fishing and shipping and workers in coastal facilities, are also People of the Sea. Their lives and livelihoods are threatened by maritime disasters: pollution, over-fishing and natural phenomena such as the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. And yet their lives are also nourished by the sea: the beauty of nature, the harvest of fish and the cultural enrichment that comes from receiving visitors from other shores.
Lack of access to communications causes a sense of isolation. Where crews are drawn from various countries, there are barriers of differing cultures, languages and religions. Seafarers find it difficult to discuss personal concerns or share hopes and ideas with their colleagues. They are especially vulnerable to feelings of loneliness.
Voyagers on the sea in ships,
plying their trade on the great ocean, have seen the works of Yahweh, his wonders in the deep... (Ps 107: 23)
Region of origin % of total
|Other Far East countries||20%|
|South Asia & Middle East||11%|
|Latin America & Africa||8%|
Over 90% of world trade travels by sea. The international merchant fleet employs some 1,250,000 seafarers at sea. A further 250,000 are estimated to be on shore, in training, on leave or looking for work. It is believed that more than 60% of seafarers come from a Catholic Christian background. Modern ships have between 16-25 crew, often with four or more nationalities on board. English would be the common language, yet for most this would be their second or third language.
Despite developments in road and air transport, it is still easier to transport heavy or large cargoes by coastal or long distance ships. Demand for cargo ships is increasing with the expansion of world trade. Minerals such as coal, iron, bauxite, copper and chrome are loaded into ships by conveyor belts. Dry cargoes such as cereals, sugar, fertilizers, and fodder for livestock are stored silos in ports before being transferred to the holds of ships.
Container ships carry their cargo in metal boxes, 20 and 40 foot in length. Some ship may carrier as many as 6,000 Twenty Foot Equivalent (TEU) containers. New ships coming on line carrier in excess of 10,000 TEU's. These boxes can be loaded and unloaded very rapidly by portside cranes with as many as twelve cranes working on a ship moving a container every 2 minutes. Container ships can be in and out of port in a matter for hours. This is highly advantageous for shipping companies anxious to minimize what they pay in port dues. For the hardworking seafarer it means even less possibility of spending time ashore. This type of shipping has grown steadily in the last 30 years.
Oil tankers may carry hundreds of tons of crude oil. Pipelines carry oil to coastal terminals where it is loaded into the tankers and transported to depots or refineries in consumer countries. This is a highly specialized and dangerous occupation.
Some 20% of all merchant seafarers come from the Philippines making it the largest single supply nation to the world's merchant fleet.
Despite perceived competition from other supply states, the numbers of Filipino seafarers onboard are increasing. According to government sources, in 2006 there were 260,084 Filipino seafarers deployed onboard. This figure represents a 4.9% growth compared to 2005.
The Philippine government is keen to promote its seafarers to the industry as the remittances which they send home have a significant impact on the national economy. The Philippines Overseas Employment Agency sets a standard employment contract stipulating the monthly salary of seafarers. This is comparatively low in international terms and therefore attractive in the profit-oriented globalised shipping industry.
Shipping companies also appreciate the general character of Filipinos and their linguistic and professional abilities. However the supply of trained Filipino seafarers is greater than the demand. Those in search of work must try their luck among the 360 manning agencies in Manila. This process can be costly and may oblige them to spend time away from their families.
For recent graduates of maritime schools, competition for jobs is particularly fierce. Of the 25,000 ordinary and able seamen who graduate annually, only 8,000 to 10,000 find the job within a year.
The Philippines has 89 maritime schools. Every year 60,000 new students enroll. Of these around 25,000 will complete the three year course successfully. The majority, around 20,000, will remain at the rank of Ordinary Seaman (OS) during their career at sea. Only about 5,000 will return to maritime school after a period of “on the job” training in order to proceed to the rank of Able Seaman (AB).
Several years ago the Philippines had almost twice the number of maritime schools, more than the rest of the world combined. Following a national evaluation process, the number of schools was reduced to ensure greater adherence to international standards.
Cruise shipping is one of the fastest expanding of all shipping sectors. Due to the cruise sector, many more women now earn their living at sea.
Between 1995 and 2005 the number of berths available in the world’s cruise fleet increased from 160,000 to 310,000. The duration of a cruise may be anything from two days to several months.
In addition to those employed to handle the ship, cruise ships also employ waiters and bar staff, chambermaids, entertainers, hairdressers etc.. These so called hotel staff are not recognized as seafarers by many governments, companies or trade unions. The growth of this area of shipping means that many more women are now at sea.
For passengers, a cruise may mean a tour of the world’s cultural high spots; enjoying onboard pampering and entertainment; or trying their luck on a gambling cruise. For the crew, it is work which separates them from their families, perhaps for months at a time.
Globalization and the race to the bottom in terms of salaries and working conditions have also affected the cruise sector. In 2002 the ITF and War on Want, a UK-based NGO, issued a report called “Sweatships – what it’s really like to work onboard cruise ships”. The report alleges that certain cruise lines subject crew to atrocious working conditions including long hours, slave wages, sexual harassment and a culture of fear.
Then Jesus got into the boat followed by his disciples. Suddenly a storm broke over the lake, so violent that the boat was being swamped by the waves. But he was asleep. So they went to him and woke him saying: “Save us, Lord, we are lost!”
And he said to them, “Why are you so frightened, you who have so little faith?”
And then he stood up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. They were astounded and said, “Whatever kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
Matthew 8, 23-27
In addition to the seafarers who handle the ships, Cruise ships employ hundreds of Hospitality staff as stewards, chambermaids, kitchen staff, hairdressers, entertainers and in many other roles. A large proportion of hospitality staff come from the Philippines, India and Indonesia. The growth in the cruise industry means that many more women now earn a living at sea. It is a career choice which means separation from family and community, often for months at a time. Work can be highly pressured and the environment cramped and lacking in privacy.
Gaining access to cruise ships for pastoral visits is not easy. Security is a serious concern. Permission to go onboard must be requested in advance from the cruise lines' head offices. Some lines refuse to allow any welfare visitors onto their ships. But there are others who recognise the benefits to the crew of good pastoral care. After all, it is an industry maxim that the only safe ship is a happy ship.
Fishing is one of the world's most ancient professions. Fishers on the high seas, along sea coasts, on lakes and on rivers are all People of the Sea.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that today some 41 million people live from fishing and fish farming, with a great majority being from developing countries. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of fishing: traditional, artisanal, and industrial.
Flags of convenience have brought particular problems to the fishing industry. Lack of accountability, means that health and safety regulations may be flouted. Internationally agreed fishing quotas may not be respected. Over fishing leads to depletion of fish stocks, damaging the future livelihood of fishers. These practices also threaten other marine species such as dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles which are caught in nets and destroyed as “by catch”.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) is a matter of serious debate among numerous international organizations. However there is a tendency to focus on the loss of fish stocks rather than the dangers to fishers onboard. Fishers involved in illegal fishing are usually recruited from developing countries. In the words of a report called “Why fish piracy persists”, produced by the OECD: they have few other employment options, they work on IUU vessels for low wages and in extremely poor living and working conditions to such an extent that they are considered bonded labor.
Traditional fishers are by far the most numerous fishers in the world. In general, they catch fish to feed their families and may make a little money selling their surplus. Depending on local tradition and resources, their boats may be dug-out canoes; canoes with a small sail; or larger canoes which take several people. Some use small outboard motors. Equipment is usually traditional nets or lines.
For millions of people living in coastal villages in equatorial and tropical zones, traditional fishing is a way of life. Families may be involved in drying and smoking fish. In some cultures, women are responsible for mending the nets.
International agreements protect the rights of traditional fishers to coastal fish supplies. However traditional fishers may be under threat from bigger boats which fish illegally, often at night, in protected waters.
Perhaps it is because of the deep spiritual quality of traditional fishermen that Christ built his Church by choosing his first Apostles from among the fishermen…
Mr. Felix Randrianasoavina, Manager Stella Maris Centre, Toamasina, Madagascar. Executive Secretary Cooperative of Malgache Maritime Organizations
Artisanal fishing is small scale industrial fishing. The captain of an artisanal fishing boat is often the owner or part-owner along with a family member who may also be part of the crew. Boats usually return to port each day or after only a few days at sea.
In some areas imports of foreign fish have led to a drop in local prices. Fresh fish caught locally cannot compete with cheap imports. Artisanal fishers are at the mercy of fluctuating prices, weather and the hazards of the sea.
As Jesus was walking by the Lake of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast into the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” and at once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. And at once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.
(Mt 4, 18-22)
Industrial FishingIndustrial fishing is the most dangerous and among the hardest of all jobs in the world. Equipment such as radars, sonars and echo sounders are used to locate shoals of crabs or fish often in the most extreme oceans. Whether it be fishing in tropical seas facing the dangers of cyclones and typhoons, or enduring freezing temperatures and drifting ice packs in polar regions.
Many ships use hydraulic cranes to set and retrieve pots or nets. For fishers on such ships, work is tedious & tiring and extremely hazardous. In addition to managing and repairing nets, they must sort and clean the catch.
On factory ships fish is processed and frozen onboard. In such cases, the catch is collected by support vessels which also bring fresh supplies allowing fishing vessels to stay at sea for months without fishers ever having a chance shore leave.
Sea Sunday is celebrated on the second Sunday in July. All over the world, congregations of Christians gather to remember those who live and work at sea. Contact Apostleship of the Sea in your area to find out about activities locally.
Contact Fr. Freddie Chua at Mary Star of the Sea @ 310-833-3541; Stella Maris Chapel @ 310-521-1042; FrFreddieC@marystar.org, - or your local Parish Priest and find your nearest Apostleship of the Sea representative. Contact them to find out about volunteering and support activities.
Donation can be made to:
Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Maritime Ministry 870 West 8th Street, San Pedro, CA 90731
Lobby your political representatives in support of legislation that guarantees the rights of seafarers and fishers. Express your support for the Consolidated Maritime Labor Convention and the proposed Convention on the rights of fishers.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Have mercy on all seafarers
Our Father. . .Hail Mary. . . Glory be . . .
Mary, Star of the Sea Pray for us
St Peter Pray for us
St Andrew Pray for us
Let us pray
O God, in Your kindness, lead all seafarers through the perils of the ocean and bring them back in safety to their homes and friends. Guide them through the many temptations their way of life occasions. Inspire them to make fruitful use of the clubs and chapels Your Church has established for them, and grant that they may learn to love and follow You with strength and loyalty through Christ Our Lord. Amen