The Ukrainian Eparchy has been actively involved in the work of ministry to seafarers in Australia since 1998. Fr. Alex Kenez, a legend for his work with sailors, started visiting ships in Melbourne at that time. There he helped many seafarers while they were at port and amongst these were many Ukrainian sailors. Due to his inability to work with seafarers any more, Fr. Alex did not attend the conference. He has resigned from the Apostleship of the Sea.

Bishop Peter was appointed Bishop Promotor about five years ago by the Australian Bishops Conference. In this role, he is responsible for promoting port welfare in Australia that is part of the Stella Maris network.

This year’s conference was held in Adelaide 5-7th December. Peter Owens of Brisbane is the National Director. National Conferences are held every two years. New Zealand was well represented. Fr. Jeff Drane, the National Director, and about ten other port workers attended from New Zealand. About sixty port workers attended the conference.

It is an opportunity to meet other volunteers from across the region to share the successes and problems of this Catholic ministry to help those who help make Australia the country it is. Monsignor Ian Dempsey, a former Naval Chaplain, shared about his ministry to the Australian Navy. Nascy Mascernhas, a sailor himself, spoke about the needs and expectations of sailors when they come to port. Graham Lightfoot spoke about the help available from the Australian Mariner’s Welfare Society.

Bishop Peter contributed by helping the groups to keep focus on its Christian Mission. During his homily on Sunday morning, he reminded the conference that it was not so much that they bring Christ to the sailors, but that these often mistreated and overworked seafarers where they ones who helped port volunteers in their journey to their own salvation because they are really the image of Christ as brothers and sisters much like Lazarus was to the rich men in the Gospel.

From the perspective of Ukrainians in Australia, this conference was very important because the welfare committees of Stella Maris in Australia and New Zealand serve thousands of Ukrainian seamen who visit our ports daily. They receive the best care and service at these centres.

Also it was reported at this meeting that a number of sailors are already asking for political asylum in Australia because of the war in Ukraine. Methods of handling these cases were discussed.

The next conference will be held in Sydney in two years. The New Zealand conference will be held in May 2015.