Once a month the Pastor’s Note will be provided by one of the Chaplaincies that operate in the Diocese. This month, for Sea Sunday we hear from Kheng Tan, a Cathedral Parishioner who is Chaplain for Stella Maris formerly known as Apostleship of the Sea.
We often hear of hospital, prison or army chaplaincy, but we seldom hear of seafarers’ chaplaincy. The Catholic Church maritime agency, Stella Maris (formerly Apostleship of the Sea), answers to our Lord’s call “I am a stranger, you welcome me” (Matthew 25). It has been in existence for over a hundred years. In Auckland, Stella Maris, together with the Anglican Mission, provides practical help and pastoral care to seafarers and fishers. 90% of goods that come into our country arrive by ship. That is much of the food we eat, equipment in our hospitals, cars, just about everything. And seafarers (and fishers) are the ones who transport these goods across the oceans for us. I have been involved in Stella Maris for over four years. My role involves going on board ships to present a friendly and welcoming face to the seafarers. On board ships, I am able to share their joys and sorrows, provide a listening ear to the seafarers’ problems, be it work or family. I remember an occasion when a seafarer was celebrating his son’s 2nd birthday on Facetime. He was delighted I was able to offer a prayer or two for his son. The sad part of this job involves attending to deaths on board ships, including arranging a priest for funeral rites. There were also instances of comforting distraught seafarers whose parents passed away suddenly and they couldn’t return home. On a number of occasions, pastoral care is given to seafarers in hospital and at times in prison. The Seafarers Centre in Quay Street is a place for seafarers on shore leave to have a rest, away from the confines of their ship. We also provide sim cards and wi-fi to enable them to connect to their families back home. Volunteers used to manage the Centre before the onset of Covid-19. The short turnaround of ships at our ports means it is almost impossible for Catholic seafarers to attend Mass. Sunday Mass readings are distributed and Holy Communion is offered on board ships to Catholic seafarers. Often this is the only connection to their faith. Whenever possible, I arrange for a priest to celebrate Mass on board ships, if not, a Liturgy of Word is celebrated. The Covid-19 pandemic also poses very challenging times for the seafarers. Borders are closed disrupting crew change. Some are known to have been stuck on board ships for more than a year. Shore leave for crew is cancelled and New Zealand ports are still under level 4 lockdown. Consequently, the Seafarer Centre is closed. However, our emphasis is now placed on ship visiting. We chaplains, have become personal shoppers for the seafarers, purchasing personal items, be it grooming/hygienic products, electronic items, clothes, pharmacy medicines and snacks. It is an honour and privilege to be the face of Christ to these seafarers. We take this opportunity to thank our past volunteers. Certainly, their contributions made a difference to the lives of these seafarers. We give thanks to our Lord for the work of seafarers and fishers, and humbly ask you to pray for them, especially this Sea Sunday.
Kheng B Tan ~ Auckland Stella Maris Team