Vatican Congress opens on Apostleship of the Sea

2012-11-19 Vatican Radio

The New Evangelization is at the heart of reflections at the XXIII World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea that began Monday in the Vatican’s Synod Hall. The November 19-23 congress is the first to be held in Rome in 30 years; the last one to be held here was in 1982. This year’s Congress is also taking place 90 years after Pius XI signed the first Constitutions of the Apostleship of the Sea on August 17, 1922.

In extending its invitation to workers in this pastoral ministry for seafarers and their families, the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People said the congress will offer a moment for “reflection, prayer and sharing…to examine the current situation of our apostolate ‘to outline new ways and expressions of the Good News to be transmitted to contemporary man with renewed enthusiasm’ (Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod of Bishops ).”

In his opening address to the some the 400 participants from 70 countries at the congress,
Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, described Apostleship of the Sea centers with their chaplains and volunteers in ports around the globe as “a beacon of light for those who have sailed for weeks only in the company of themselves.”

Below is an unofficial translation from Italian of the full text of his speech:

Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Representatives of International Organizations,
Dear Participants,

With great joy I welcome all of you who are present here. This is the largest World Congress ever organized in the history of the Apostleship of the Sea. More than 400 delegates from 70 countries are assembled here. They bring with them social, cultural and national differences, but in this hall, gathered together in Christ' name, under the logo that depicts the anchor of love and hope, we are one great family: the family of the Apostleship of the Sea!
We are here to celebrate the XXIII World Congress. Many of you will surely remember the preceding ones in Gdynia (Poland 2007) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil 2002). Some others will recall the Congresses of Davao (Philippines 1997) and Houston (Texas, USA 1992. But I do not know how many of you present in this hall can remember the last Congress that took place right here in October 1982.
After 30 years, we have chosen to be in the Vatican again because we wanted to return to our roots and commemorate the 90th anniversary of Pius XI's approval of the first Constitutions and blessing of this new Apostolate. The small mustard seed planted 92 years ago in Glasgow by a small group of laypersons has grown and fulfilled Pius XI's wish that this initiative would develop in the maritime areas of both hemispheres.
You and the other members and friends of the Apostleship of the Sea who could not be here with us are the tangible testimony that this is an important and essential apostolate for seafarers, fishers and their families. As bishops, priests, men and women religious and laypersons, you are the multinational crew of this pastoral care to which the task of evangelizing the maritime world is entrusted. You do this at the beginning of the Year of Faith and right after the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, which took place in this same Hall, and in which I personally took part.
The evangelization of seafarers, fishers and their families is not different from the evangelization of those who belong to other social categories. In the Church's understanding, to evangelize means to bring the Good News to all human beings. However, the ways and means must be chosen carefully and take into consideration the conditions and situations of the ones who will receive it. In fact, if we refer to those who belong to the world of the sea, they are beyond the reach of the Church's ordinary pastoral care because they are forced to be far from their Christian communities for entire months.
The technological development of the maritime industry, the growing problems concerning the seafarers' life and work, the challenges raised by the new and often restrictive rules, and the world economic crisis make the Apostleship of the Sea evangelize in rather difficult conditions. Despite all these difficulties, the maritime world is a fertile terrain for evangelization. The ships, in fact, sail the seven seas of the world, stop from one port to another, and transport not only goods but also crews with a different culture, tradition and religion and create, for people from different ethnic groups, the opportunity to meet and appreciate the differences. Multinational teams live and work in the ships' very limited space, far from their families and Christian communities for months, and with no nourishment for their faith, which is often like a “smoldering wick”. The New Evangelization and the Year of the Faith invite every chaplain and volunteer of the Apostleship of the Sea to deepen their faith, to believe in the Gospel message, and to go forward to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know it and to rekindle in this way that “smoldering wick” through Christian witness.
This Christian witness must be given through a ministry of on-going presence, service and solidarity. For the seafarers who arrive in foreign ports, far from the city, the presence of an Apostleship of the Sea center with the chaplain and volunteers is always a beacon of light for those who have sailed for weeks only in the company of themselves. The constant service given with love to respond to the needs of all crews, regardless of creed and nationality, brings hope in the moments of discouragement. Solidarity for exploited and abandoned seafarers is an expression of Christ's love for all. Through your lives, often without saying a word, you are agents of evangelization! The Church appreciates your work and is grateful to you for what you do.
In order to come here, you have made long journeys, encountered difficulties getting entrance visas, and some of you who just arrived a few hours ago must still be getting used to the time zone. You have all made these sacrifices because you wanted to be here, in this Congress, with your stories and experiences. You have come to listen, share and reflect, in order to return later to your ports with renewed commitment, enthusiasm and unity among you. The program is intense but well organized, the speakers are qualified, and the Holy Father awaits us in an Audience: these are the ingredients for what we hope will be a successful Congress.
It would not have been possible to organize our Congress without the financial support of maritime organizations and friends who despite the difficult economic moment, have wanted to generously finance different aspects of this event. We want to acknowledge their contribution and express our appreciation to all of them.
I would also add a special thought for some people present here who in the past years have navigated with us and supported the cause of the people of the sea. In a few months, they will leave their present positions. I am talking about David Cockroft, Secretary General of the ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation) since 1993; Tom Holmer, Administrative Officer of the ITF Seafarers' Trust; and Rev. Hennie La Grange, for the past four years Secretary General of the ICMA (International Christian Maritime Organization). We thank them for their generous commitment to improving the welfare of seafarers, and we hope they will continue to be connected with the Apostleship of the Sea. Special thanks go to one of our volunteers, Mrs. Rose Kearney, who for more than forty years has served the seafarers with commitment and thoughtfulness at the Dublin Stella Maris.
In conclusion, I wish to invoke over all of us during these days the light and protection of Mary, Star of the Sea, using the prayer which Blessed John Paul II put at the end of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania. It also appears on the image of Our Lady Star of the Sea with Asian features which the Taiwanese painter Cheen Sheen made precisely for this occasion.

“O Stella Maris,light of every ocean and mistress of the deep,
guide the peoples of Oceania across all dark and stormy seas,
that they may reach the haven of peace and light
prepared in him who calmed the sea.
Keep all your children safe from harm
for the waves are high and we are far from home.
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?'”.

As I express my best wishes to all for a fruitful meeting, it is my pleasure to declare open the XXIII World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea.