Ahead of the annual Christian celebration of Sea Sunday on 8th July, the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham has published new research on the lives of seafarers and the vital work of Christian charities in meeting their pastoral and spiritual needs.
The report, ‘Being There’: How Catholic chaplains support seafarers in the UK, is the result of extensive field research at ports across the UK, undertaken in partnership with the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS).
The report looks at the work and life of seafarers upon whom our modern, globalised economy, is heavily dependent, and the support offered to them by the Catholic and wider Christian community. Given the fact that seafarers are disproportionately drawn from highly religious – around a third come from the Philippines alone – the religious dimension is essential to their proper pastoral care.
Seafarers are often away from home for months at a time with only occasional contact with their families. Following the economic crash of 2008, global financial pressures have meant that wages low are often low and job insecurity high. Tens of thousands of seafarers visit British ports each year, making brief stops – perhaps of only a few hours – after days or weeks at sea.
These ‘people of the sea’ (St John Paul II) can be relatively anonymous to the rest of the community, even in towns and cities whose own prosperity relies greatly on the shipping industry.
Working with AoS, who continue a tradition that goes back to the Early Church, the report explores how they offer vital forms of aid and assistance to seafarers of all faiths and nationality.
Amongst many other services, the 16 full and part time AoS chaplains and other ship visitors who work in ports across the UK offer conversation, provide practical advice, assist seafarers in contacting families back home, and – when and where problems arise – liaise with medical services, police, port authorities.
Speaking of the report, co-author Prof Stephen Bullivant said, “The often harsh, dangerous and isolating work of seafarers, which helps our global economy to function, should be of interest and concern not just to the citizens of ports communities, but to everyone who benefits from it.
“The work of the AoS chaplains and other members of faith communities has a very real and important impact on the lives of seafarers who they come in to contact with, but more can be done and we hope that this report will shine a light on this often under reported issue."