Sea Sunday 2017
9th July 2017
The next time you are in your kitchen, take a look at the various appliances and the food you have. The chances are that your washing machine, kettle, those onions, and that jar of coffee have all arrived in the UK by ship.
It’s estimated that around 90% of goods imported into the UK come by sea and that means we have the world’s 1.5 million seafarers to thank for so many of the goods we rely on.
July 9th is Sea Sunday, when the Church asks us to pray for seafarers and support the work of Apostleship of the Sea (AoS). Its port chaplains, ship visitors, and cruise chaplains provide practical and pastoral help to countless seafarers each year.
Being a seafarer might sound a romantic occupation, but nothing could be further from the truth. Working on a ship involves long hours, low pay, and going months at a time without seeing family and friends. It can be a very lonely life.
Father Angelo Phillips, a Leeds diocesan priest who is now retired and lives in Harrogate, knows how hard life can be at sea. He has served as as AoS cruise ship chaplain for the last eight years.
“I found the work very much like being in a parish but only this time the parish was afloat, a sailing village of over 4,000 people, 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew,” he said.
Over the years, the Leeds diocese has provided priests to help from time to time on P & O Cruise ships, especially at Christmas and Easter, he explained. “Many of those working on cruise ships are at sea for six to nine months. Most will be from the Philippines, Goa and Kerala, and they are fervent in their Catholic faith, as indeed we were once in Britain.
“Being a chaplain can be exhausting, but it’s also very rewarding. The crew welcome the presence of a chaplain, as they then have an opportunity to go to Mass and confession. Sometimes, though, they just want to have a heart to heart conversation.”
As most of the crew are unable to attend daily Mass because of their shifts, Father Angelo would celebrate a second Mass around midnight in their quarters in the bowels of the ship.
“The crew miss their families a lot. They save most of what they earn to send back home. One time, when a young Goan member of the crew heard that his father had died of a heart attack, I was able to say Mass for him. Several of his friends attended, and he found this very comforting.”
AoS relies on the support of Catholic parishes to continue its work with seafarers. Some parishes fund raise, knit woolly hats, or put together gift boxes at Christmas. Father Angelo would like to see more parishes getting involved with AoS and he would like to see more priests offering to serve as a cruise chaplain.
He sees being a cruise chaplain as mainly about being present, just being seen around the ship. “As the captain of the Ventura said to me, ’Father, just having you present on the ship gives us all reassurance that we have God's blessing as we cruise from country to country.’”
Text and photographs by Greg Watts.