(Source: CD/Devin Watkins, Vatican News)
In a video message sent Wednesday to the Apostleship of the Sea, Pope Francis recognised the difficulties facing seafarers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He expressed gratitude for their help in feeding humanity despite the risks involved.
“Your work as maritime personnel and fishermen has thus become even more important,” he said, “since it is providing our greater human family with food and other primary needs.”
Stranded at sea
The coronavirus pandemic, said the Pope, has forced “significant changes” upon seafarers, leading them to make “many sacrifices.”
“Long periods spent aboard ships without being able to disembark, separation from families, friends and native countries, and fear of infection,” he said, “are a heavy burden to bear, now more than ever.”
Anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 seafarers are currently stranded at sea, according to the UN’s labor agency.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) said recently that lockdown measures have prevented healthy maritime personnel from disembarking. Many completed their tours months ago but were forced to stay aboard.
Mental health issues and physical exhaustion, ILO said, are affecting many.
In his message, Pope Francis addressed suffering seafarers directly.
“Know that you are not alone and that you are not forgotten,” he said. “Your work at sea often keeps you apart from others, but you are close to me in my thoughts and prayers, and in those of your chaplains and the volunteers of Stella Maris.”
The Pope reminded them that Jesus’s first disciples were fishermen, something they should take comfort in.
Protected by Our Lady
Pope Francis then offered each seafarer “a message and a prayer of hope, comfort, and consolation in the face of whatever hardships you have to endure.”
He also encouraged all those who provide them with pastoral care and spiritual support.
“May the Lord bless each of you, your work, and your families,” he said, “and may the Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea, protect you always.”
The Apostleship of the Sea is a Catholic charity supporting seafarers. Its patron is Our Lady, Star of the Sea.
Stella Maris was founded in Glasgow, Scotland, in the early 20th century as a network of seafarer chaplaincies in ports throughout the world.
The Apostleship of the Sea’s 216 chaplains work in more than 311 ports in over 30 different countries.