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Nourishing seafarers' faith 

Since AoS was set up nearly a hundred years ago it has always been clear that it exists not just to provide practical help to seafarers but also ways to nourish their faith.

Each week in ports around the country, AoS chaplains and ship visitors offer not just phone cards or newspapers, woolly hats for cold weather, or arrange transport to local shops. They also try to meet the spiritual needs of seafarers, whatever their faith or lack of it.

Many of the seafarers they meet will be Catholic, often from countries such as India, the Philippines or Poland. Being away at sea for such long periods means they cannot get to Mass or receive the sacrament of reconciliation. When requested, AoS port chaplains and ship visitors will try to take seafarers to Mass at a local church or arrange for a priest to celebrate Mass on board.

Father Colum Kelly, AoS port chaplain to Immingham, (pictured below) who has celebrated Mass on many ships, said, “The joy with which seafarers celebrate is most humbling. It is not unusual that Mass on ship would be their first encounter with sacraments since leaving home.” 

AoS Immingham port chaplain Fr Colum Kelly distributing Holy Communion to seafarers on board ship

One time, he celebrated Mass for a Filipino crew when the temperature was -6c. Yet the men still took off their hats and balaclavas. Two of the crew had to keep watch on deck, but they opened the portholes in order to receive Holy Communion.

AoS will also offer a range of religious booklets to help sustain a seafarer’s faith at sea. Reading some inspiring words can go a long way in helping seafarers deal with the loneliness and isolation many of them experience because they are away from their families for so long.

Recently AoS teamed up with Bible Society to provide seafarers with Bibles. This has gone down well, said Wojeiech Holub, port chaplain to Tilbury in Essex. "Natural theology is somehow built into seafarers’ minds and lives. They are aware that there is a greater force that they cannot withstand. They find some peace, stillness and consolation in reading the Bible."  (Watch a video clip of Wojciech speaking about this here)

Officer Reimiel Angelo Dorado, who arrived in Tilbury on the container ship Grande Abidjan and hadn’t see his family for nearly five months, said he missed praying with them. "Here we pray alone. But the Bible gives me some inspiration and courage. John 3:16 tells us how God loves us. It explains his self-sacrifice. It explains everything. When I read it I know that everything will be OK." 

AoS Tilbury port chaplain Wojciech Holub shares scripture with seafarers
Wojciech shares scripture with some seafarers. Photo: Bible Society

It’s only thanks to the generosity of its supporters that AoS port chaplains and ship visitors can continue to support the faith of seafarers, who we all rely on for so much of what we buy in our shops. AoS is always grateful for any support, no matter how small.

PS During these days around the feast of the Holy Family, AoS port chaplains as well as supporting the faith of seafarers, are making special efforts to help seafarers stay in touch with their families by phone and over the internet. This work is only thanks to the generosity of our supporters. Thank you for your donations and prayers that make this possible.

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