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Apostleship of the Sea



The Church has a three-fold responsibility: to proclaim the Word, to celebrate the Sacraments, and to undertake the ministry of charity. The service of charity is constitutive of the Church’s mission and an indispensible expression of the Church’s being – Pope Benedict XVI.[1]

The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS), as a Catholic ministry of charity, has always had seafarers’ welfare as its top priority. This is represented in three ways:

  1. Seafarers’ spiritual wellbeing regardless of their race, colour, creed or gender;
  2. Seafarers’ families, keeping them in touch using up-to-date technology;
  3. Seafarers’ social welfare, with building community on board ships, opportunities to leave the port environment, and feel part of our global family.

The work of the Apostleship of the Sea began under the name of the Apostolate of Prayer formed originally in Glasgow Scotland on 31st July 1891. In 1922, Pope Pius XI approved the First Constitution of the movement known at the Apostleship of the Sea.

1.      Current Ministry

From the 1930s to the 1960s, seafarers were seen as vagrants and Seafarers’ Centres were a refuge for seafarers, who were mostly European. From the 1960s, features have been containerisation, quicker ship turn arounds, “Flag of Convenience” shipping and third world labour for cheaper wages. In last 10 years the move has been from the majority of Filipino and Catholic seafarers to increasing proportions from Eastern Europe, Ukraine, China, Myanmar and the Pacific Islands, with about 60% still being Catholic. Two key issues now are:

  • piracy and its impact on seafarers and their families; and
  • United Nations MLC 2007 being used to control welfare services.

2.       Example of a successful ministry in Australia

The Archdiocese of Brisbane has placed the Apostleship of the Sea under Centacare Pastoral Ministries. Fr. John Chalmers is the Director who meets with the AOS team regularly, runs training programs on pastoral care, co-ordinates retreats, and celebrates an annual pastoral Mass for all ministries combined.

The local Port Chaplain, Fr John Spiteri OFM CAP, meets with the Apostolate up to three times a week. He celebrates the sacraments for the seafarers on board and ashore and provides the spiritual guidance in conjunction with Fr. John Chalmers.

3.        Roles and responsibilities with the Apostleship of the Sea

The Apostleship of the Sea has been established, under the overall direction of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People (PCMIP), and approved under the 1997 Motu Proprio of Pope John Paul II, Stella Maris, as an “integral part of the pastoral structure of the universal Church.” [2] The various roles involved in the mission of the Apostleship of the Sea in Australia have been spelled out in Stella Maris,[3] and are included in the attached AOS Manual.[4]

4.       Episcopal Promoter

The Motu Proprio Stella Maris mandates the appointment of an Episcopal Promoter by the local Bishops Conference or Synod to supervise, foster, and promote the work of the maritime apostleship.[5] He is responsible to Rome for national issues related to the Catholic mission of the Apostleship of the Sea for the social, spiritual, and material welfare of seafarers.[6] The Motu Proprio details the responsibilities of the Episcopal Promoter and the National Director of the AOS.[7]

5.       Eparchial Bishop

Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated Canon Law that the local Ordinary is responsible for the oversight of the Catholic charitable organisations established within his eparchy and their regulation, within the spirit of the Gospel.[8] This applies to local AOS agencies for, whilst the AOS is established nationally, the local AOS agencies are established within the competency of the local Ordinary.[9]

6.       Patriarchal Representative for AOS

The Patriarchal representative for AOS maintains relations with the bishops, reports to the Bishop Promoter on pastoral work for the maritime people of his country, promotes specific training programs for chaplains, directs and monitors chaplains, arranges chaplain meetings and formation, fosters development of the apostolate and maintains regular contact with aid organisations.[10]

7.        Apostleship of the Sea Agency

Under Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio of 2012, Catholic charitable agencies are expected to follow Catholic principles in their activity.[11]

Catholic agency personnel are expected to:[12]

  • Share and respect Catholic identity in the activity of the agency;
  • Be an evangelical witness in their service of charity through the agency;
    • Give an example of the Christian life in going about their work and in their private lives;
    • Give witness to their formation of heart that testifies to their faith in working through charity;
    • Undertake theological and pastoral formation; and
    • Not present choices against Church teachings.

8.       Chaplains

The role of the AOS Chaplain is detailed in the Motu Proprio Stella Maris.[13]

Whilst lay chaplaincy is of great assistance to the AOS mission, priest-chaplains are required for essential services such Liturgies, in centres and aboard ship; for ship blessings, especially after the death of a crew person; and for administering the Sacraments.

There is a shortage of priest-chaplains and priests need to be reintroduced in every port, if not necessarily on a full-time basis. One approach may for be parishes situated around a port to roster priests for AOS duty. If sufficient communities participate in sharing this pastoral mission, the work for individual rostered priests would not be burdensome. This would also foster greater inclusion of seafarers in the life of the local Church, and its mission.

Engagement with local parishes would be furthered fostered through regular communication between the Patriarchal office and eparchies and between AOS centres and parishes to encourage their buy-in and would also strengthen the Catholicity of the AOS agency and its work.

There is a great need for training for priest-chaplains in the requirements of the AOS mission and the seafaring industry, for example in licensing, cultural training, fear of unknown, special gear like safety vests, who is on the boat, who is visiting the boat, and the role of captain.

9.       Laity

The work of the laity in the Port is one of the most important aspects of this ministry. Their formation is essential. There is training in dealing with customs, immigration, quarantine, shipping agents and port authorities, Occupational Health & Safety, cultural awareness, pastoral care, and seeking help. Beyond this, however, there is no training in Catholic Identity.

10.      Eparchial Support

Financial Support

  • Current sources of financial support

– Internationally the International Transport Federation (ITF Seafarers’ Trust) contributes some funding to the AOS operations through small capital grants to individual centres, mostly for a bus or a renovation.

  • Changes in financial support

– The ITF advised at the 2012 International AOS meeting in Rome that it would be withdrawing operational funding for the Apostleship to concentrate on grant funding for specific social welfare programs for seafarers. That means that the allocation of funding for buses etc. will no longer be available.

11.       Model of Service for the AOS – Chaplains and pastoral workers

The modern maritime industry has changed in its organisation and operations. Seafarers have less opportunity to visit AOS Centres. More and more, their Sacramental and pastoral care needs to be provided on board their ships. Some ship owners are resistant to this happening. Port authorities are increasingly indifferent to the plight of seafarers and attempts to deliver pastoral care to them. AOS services risk being reduced to a mere bus service.

The old centre-based service model is increasingly inadequate for the emerging tasks of mission: service delivery on board ships. Changing seafarers’ working conditions will require more attention:

  • by local Bishops to the AOS agency in their eparchy,
  • by agencies to the nature their service delivery,
  • from chaplains and pastoral workers,
  • to service delivery on board ships,
  • to more interaction with ship owners, captains and Port Authorities and,

It is also noteworthy that many of the shipside workers and administration officers at the docks are in fact Catholic. They, probably more so than in the general population, tend not to attend church at their local parishes. AOS chaplains should be very aware of this fact and not restrict their pastoral ministry just to those on ship but also include all in the dock precinct.

12.       Catholic Identity

We need to be discerning and providing the best form of pastoral care that is available today.

“Nevertheless, to the extent that such activities are promoted by the Hierarchy itself, or are explicitly supported by the authority of the Church’s Pastors, there is a need to ensure that they are managed in conformity with the demands of the Church’s teaching and the intentions of the faithful, and that they likewise respect the legitimate norms laid down by civil authorities.”[14]

Training and formation in Catholic identity for AOS agencies would cover the application of the principles of Catholic social and moral teachings in agency staffing, formation, planning and decision making.[15]

This would range across the expectations of the personnel of Catholic agencies, as these apply in the circumstances of seafarers and the pastoral work of AOS agencies, to:

  • Share and respect Catholic identity in the activity of the agency;
  • Be an evangelical witness in their service of charity through the agency;
  • Give an example of the Christian life in going about their work and in their private lives;
  • Give witness to their formation of heart that testifies to their faith in working through charity;
  • Undertake theological and pastoral formation; and
  • Not present choices against Church teachings.[16]

13.         Cruise Ship Chaplaincy

Cruise Ship Chaplains pose a particular problem. The majority of cruise ship companies have signed contracts with USA, UK and Italy.

We are usually brought in when a shipping company finds difficulty in getting a supply Priest. All Priests we supply must be vetted and approved in good standing with their eparchy prior to their voyage. However, some shipping companies use a website called “Rent A Priest” and they end up with priests who are not Catholic, who make claims that they are.

Priests from sites like this one come from all walks of life and have little or no religious training. Most Catholics recognize this immediately and report them to the Catholic Church. This leaves us in a very difficult position on how best to respond as we have no control over these so-called priests.

+Peter Stasiuk C.Ss.R

Episcopal Promoter Apostleship of the Sea

[1] Benedict XVI, Motu Proprio, On the Service of Charity, Introduction. 2012

http://www.vatican.va/holv father/benedict xvi/motu proprio/documents/hf ben-xvi motu proprio 20121111 caritas en.html

[2] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents of the Apostolate of the Sea, pl6.

[3]          John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Stella Maris on the Maritime Apostolate: AAS LXXXIX (1997) 209-216.

[4] Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents of the Apostolate of the Sea, p63-71.

[5] Stella Maris, Art XI, #1.

[6] Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents of the Apostolate of the Sea, pi 7.

I    Stella Maris, Art. X and Art. XI.

[8] On the Service of Charity, Art. 3, # 2. Art. 4. Art. 10.

[9] Stella Maris, Art. XII. Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents of the Apostolate of the Sea, pl7.

[10] Stella Maris, Art. XI. Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents of the Apostolate of the Sea, pp69-70.

[11] On the Service of Charity Art. 1 #3.

[12] On the Service of Charity, Art. VII #1-2.

[13] Stella Maris, Section 3, Art. VI-VIII Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents of the Apostolate of the Sea, pp 65-68.

[14] On the Service of Charity, Introduction.

[15] “Mission Discernment: A Resource for Decision-Making in the Catholic Tradition”, Susan Sullivan BA Dip Ed MRE (Chicago), CHA, August 2012; and “Crafting Catholic identity in Postmodern Australia”, Fr Gerald A Arbuckle SM PhD, CHA, August 2007.

[16] On the Service of Charity, Art. VII #1-2.


This post is also available in: Ukrainian

About Fr Andriy

Fr. Andriy was born in Lviv, Ukraine in 1984 AD. He graduated from the Lviv Holy Spirit Seminary in 2008 AD after he completing a Master's degree in Liturgical Studies from Ukrainian Catholic University in 2007. He arrived in Australia in February 2010 AD. He was parish priest of St. Volodymyr's Parish, Canberra-Queanbeyan (December 2010 - March 2014) and now he is the Parish Administrator of Ss Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish, North Melbourne.

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