|Deacon Roger Stone with Seafarer|
AoS is unique in being the only Catholic agency serving the maritime industry. This month [July 9] is Sea Sunday, when the Church asks us to pray for seafarers and support the work of AoS, whose chaplains and ship visitors provide practical and pastoral help in ports around the coast of Britain.
The world of the seafarer is a hidden one, and it is one that might appear to have little bearing on our lives. Most of us are far more familiar with airports than ports.
Yet around 90% of the goods imported into the UK arrive by sea. This includes everything from bananas and computers to coffee and cookers.
One of the tasks of Rev Roger Stone, AoS port chaplain to Southampton and a number of ports on the south coast, is to try and meet the spiritual needs of the Catholic seafarers he encounters.
An example of this was when earlier this year the Polish captain of a tanker ship said he was keen to go to Mass and also receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
“Mass was being celebrated in a church five minutes' drive from the terminal, but I drove him into Southampton so he could attend a mass in Polish and celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation in his native tongue,” said Roger.
“He was really relieved to be able to go, On the way back to the ship he commented that we did all this just for one person. It was quite clear to me that the Holy Spirit led me to that ship, to him, and required me to help him to receive just what he needed.”
Roger makes seafarers aware of the Stella Maris application, which they can download onto their mobile phones or other devices. This gives them access to daily readings, reflections and much more throughout their time on board. He also shares the gospel of the day on his Facebook page.
He is impressed by the faith of many of the seafarers he meets. He saw an example of this during Lent this year. “On some car ships I visited, the Indian crews from Kerala and Tamil Nadu refrained from meat and fish for the whole of Lent. They only ate vegetables and rice. This was a real sacrifice for them because their work is physically demanding at the best of times and going without does caused them some difficulty.”
Life at sea is tough. Seafarers work long hours for little pay and see very little of their families back home. In some cases, they can be at sea for weeks or even months.
“Because the seafarers are away from home for so long, and it’s very difficult for them to get off the ships, then I go onto the ships to welcome them and see if we can help them with practical and spiritual support,” Roger said.
On one occasion, he added, a Filipino seafarer came up to him and started crying. “One of the seafarers came up to me and just leaned on to me and cried because he was missing his family so much. And all I can really do is be there for him. Everybody is welcome. Everybody deserves and receives the ministry that I can offer. I’m only sharing God’s love, and that is very powerful.”