Author: Sarah Eustace

Stella Maris supports cruise ship workers during pandemic

Global maritime charity Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) is working with P&O Cruises and Cunard to ensure their cruise ship workers who are isolating on ships off the South Coast of England during Coronavirus continue to receive pastoral support and care.

The charity’s Director of Chaplaincy Fr John Lavers said, “This is one way in which we are responding to their needs and we are grateful to the company who have approached us and encouraged us to provide this assistance which is most welcomed by cruise ship workers.” 

Part of this outreach includes producing weekly video recordings of Sunday Gospel Readings, reflection and prayer conducted by the charity’s chaplains for the company’s cruise ship workers, offering a novel way of supporting their faith and pastoral needs during lockdown.

Stella Maris also organised for the head of Portsmouth Catholic Diocese to send a message of support and prayer for the cruise ship workers. 

In a video recorded at St John’s Cathedral, Portsmouth, Bishop Philip Egan said his thoughts and prayers were very much with them at this time of crisis. 

“Many are in lockdown and we learnt that you too on ships are confined. I am very aware that many of you are here in England, a long way from your home and your families. As a Catholic community we are very conscious of this, and we want to express to you our love and promise of prayers for you; we pray for you all the time,” he said. 

The video recording includes a prayer, scripture reading and Benediction and will be broadcast to the cruise ship workers social distancing on board. 

Bishop Egan also said that he was proud to have the work of Stella Maris in the Diocese whose chaplains are supporting cruise ship workers and are looking out for them.

Stella Maris GB Chief Executive Martin Foley said the organisation was delighted to be working with Carnival UK and that this current outreach was an extension of a long-term partnership already in place with the cruise line. 

Through its cruise chaplaincy programme, Stella Maris has, until the recent controls imposed due to the pandemic, been deploying chaplains on board the cruise ships to minister to the needs of crew and guests. 

“Despite the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions, Stella Maris chaplains in Great Britain and around the world continue to provide support to seafarers, cruise ship workers and their families during this pandemic by working in close partnership the maritime industry, trades unions and others,” he said. 

Pastoral visits to ship visitors

Whilst continuing to be of service to seafarers and fishers, our port chaplains are also ensuring that their teams of volunteers – our ship visitors – are not forgotten during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Our Dover and Medway port chaplain John Fogarty is one example. Recently he paid a pastoral visit to one of his ship visitors, Bob Bushnell, who along with his wife Sue have been on lockdown for several weeks now.

Bob was in good form as always and really looking forward starting visiting again.

“I’m meeting with a ship visitor at home each week as this is the least I can do for our faithful volunteers who serve our people of the sea so well. Bob and Sue have just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary too so many congrats to them on that achievement as well,” John says.

In another pastoral visit John met John Rutland who has been looking after operations in Sheernes on the Isle of Sheppey for more than 10 years now.

John says both are looking forward to getting back to normal and to start working one of their current projects, updating the Seafarers Room in Sheerness Docks.

Just one of many ways Stella Maris port chaplains are keeping in contact with our volunteers and ensuring that while being asked to stay home they are not isolated.

Stella Maris chaplain John Fogarty with ship visitor John Rutland

  • You can listen to John sharing and singing prayers in the weekly Sunday Gospel Reading and Prayer videos Stella Maris has started producing for cruise ship crews. Go here to see the videos.

Stella Maris supports seafarers on the Covid-19 front line

By Greg Watts

With seafarers in the front line of maintaining the world’s supply of food, fuel and medical supplies and equipment through the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) port chaplains are continuing to provide them with practical help and pastoral care.

Its 230 chaplains, who work in over 300 ports in 41 countries, are using the telephone, social media and the port authorities to keep in contact with seafarers and to provide them with sim cards, so they can contact their families; toiletries; and other basic items.

In the Philippines, where around a third of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers come from, port chaplain in Manila and Stella Maris regional coordinator, Fr Paulo Prigol and his team are accommodating 120 seafarers in three seafarers’ centres during lockdown and providing them with daily meals.

“As of now food supply is available and we are allowed to go to the supermarket once or twice a week only. The local government units have issued identification cards for each centre.”

He added that the centres, which are cleaned daily with disinfectant, each have a gym, cable TV, and a good internet service with free Wi-Fi.

“At this moment of national lockdown, there is no way of visiting the fishers, said Fr. Rico Talisic, port chaplain in Cape Town, South Africa. “But I have contact with some of them who are on the dock. Everyday I send messages to them asking how are they, giving them updates of what is going on here in Cape and asking them to be careful and stay safe.”

Fr Talisic has been providing seafarers with data and Sim cards. “With the communication I have with them, I learned there is nothing to worry about except that many of them have no more cell phone credits to continue their communication with their family and friends and to have access the outside world beyond the port.”

In Taiwan, Fr Yance Guntur, port chaplain in Kaohsiung, has distributed hand sanitisers and face masks to a group of fishermen, who have been barred from leaving their vessels.

While the seamen’s club in Ghent, Belgium, has been closed, port chaplain Fr André Quintelier and his team of volunteer ship visitors are still allowed to continue visiting vessels, but must adhere to strict health and safety guidelines.

In the UK, port chaplain to the Tyne Paul Atkinson has been putting together packages of toiletries, chocolate and prayer books for seafarers. These are delivered to ships by the harbour master, port pilots, or shipping agents.

“This way we can show our care and support for seafarers in a different way. And show we are still alongside them as they continue to sail the seas to support their families,” said Paul.

Elsewhere, Steve Willows, a port chaplain in Immingham, Lincolnshire, is making rosaries with twine for seafarers, after watching a You Tube video explaining how to do it.

Esteban Pacha, chair of trustees for Stella Maris in Great Britain, and a former ship’s captain, said, “In this time of societal upheaval, ensuring the continuity of maritime trade is vital for the global supply chain and global trade flows, including currently crucial items such as vital medical supplies and equipment, as well as food and energy.

“We would not have these items were it not for seafarers. They might not be visible to us, but our lives depend on them, especially at this critical period for our world.”

The Church and the People of the Sea

A message from Don Bruno Bignami National Director of National Office for Social Problems and Work of the Italian Bishops Conference.

For many seafarers – often prevented from being able to disembark – it will be a hard working Easter, without the pastoral service provided by priests on board. The difficulties resulting from the Covid-19 emergency have also the face of fishermen and their dry nets. Last but not least, it is impossible not to share the concern for those who, across the sea, seek an alternative to a life of violence and today are facing our ports closed. The General Secretariat of the Italian Bishop Conference (CEI), through the National Office of the Apostleship of the Sea, asks for care and solidarity for these tragedies and offers some proposals to the [issue].

The image of the boat is antique: it derives from the Gospel. On March 27, in the extraordinary moment of prayer in an empty Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis referred to it: “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. In this boat … are all of us”. The vessel is the living and working environment for many seafarers. This image reminds us that we all belong to the same destiny, we experience the interdependence of problems, we live a deep sharing even in the crisis originated by Covid-19. The health emergency has shattered the working environment. Numerous sectors suffer. Many of them are at the center of government politics to support companies in this time of shutdown or to boost their restart.

The paradox could be to say that we are on the same boat, but to forget that “on that boat” there are also those who live and work at the sea. 90% of the goods arriving in our markets are transported at sea by commercial shipping, and it is not an insignificant sector of the economy. In practice, seafarers ask to be designated as “key workers” for the role they play, essential for goods to reach our cities and homes.

Unfortunately, in normal times those who work on merchant ships, cruise ship and crews of ferries and transport vessels are already at risk of being overlooked. In the time of Covid-19 the condition of suffering increases. “We are on the same boat” means accepting that the miscellaneous world of those who work at sea or in ports is also at the center of attention and solidarity of the civil community.

The Church’s pastoral concern for seafarers is alive and does not fail, especially now that seafarers are in danger of being among the poorest categories. For the first time, because of the storm caused by Covid-19, the chaplains do not get on board as they usually do. The Italian Church had to give up the usual religious service for Holy Week on cruise ships. The crisis in the tourism sector is also striking this area and has not allowed the normal celebration of religious services. A service appreciated because it allows many passengers, and especially crew members, to celebrate Easter.

In addition, many seafarers who in recent weeks have been at sea could not sign off from the “boat”: the presence of infected people has kept them away from their homes, their families and even from docking to a port. The refusal to offer a landing pier for ships flying Italian flag, vessels that cannot find a port to allow crews to quarantine on land or to reach their families, seems inexplicable. There are crews that, for the lack of possible replacements, are working twice as hard, beyond any criteria of justice. The decision to close Italian ports to humanitarian ships appears also inappropriate and could turn into a boomerang of greater insecurity for everyone: it pose the danger of depriving those who are fleeing from war or prison camps of an alternative, exposing them to drowning in the Mediterranean. Our solidarity embraces all those who feel abandoned.

On the boat could not get on board, the fishermen who decided to stop their activity because it is impossible to guarantee the safety distances and for lack of adequate protection devices. The crisis in the world of tourism and catering has reduced a good portion of their sale, putting them on their knees and discouraging future investments.

The Italian Church expresses solidarity to the persons who are in these days overwhelmed by the Covid-19 emergency, all the more to the seafarers who are so numerous in our peninsula surrounded by the sea. The Christian community feels challenged. In the 2020 Centenary Year of the Apostleship of the Sea, we want to renew our ecclesial support to seafarers in their workplaces and their families.

We would like to suggest to the maritime dioceses which are sensible to this pastoral activity the followings:
• enhance where they are existing, the services of the Stella Maris Centers, as a concrete sign of support to the maritime world;
• express gratitude to seafarers who, in this moment of emergency, continue to work for the common good, both in trade and in other activities;
• share the good practices, in support of the Apostleship of the Sea, already existing in different dioceses. In the Centenary Year, new initiatives of prayers and solidarity should start. Sea Sunday which will be celebrated on July 12, 2020, can be an occasion to make the ecclesial support felt in all the sector of maritime industry;
• send a message of prayer and solidarity to fishers and their families who experience the uncertainty of their work in this time and in the next months. May they feel part of a community that welcomes and accompanies them on their journey. What Pope Francis recommended during the audience to the fishers of San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy, on January 18, 2020, can be applied to all seafarers: “I like to think that even today, those of you who are Christians feel the spiritual presence of the Lord beside you. Your faith animates precious values: popular religiosity which is expressed in trust in God, in the sense of prayer and in the Christian education of children; esteem for the family; a sense of solidarity, so that you feel the need to help one another and to help each other in need. Do not lose these values!”.

Without doubt, locally and in the dioceses there will be appropriate ways for the concrete solidarity of the Church to reach the seafarers: they who feel being on the same boat at sea on a daily basis may experience it also in being part of the diocesan life. May the time of trial also become time of hope. In the face of the adversity and uncertainty of life, nobody should lack the courage to dare fraternal charity and concrete solidarity. The same courage that drives many seafarers to take the risk of going out at sea must be shared with all people of good will who understand that each of us is closely interdependent upon the other. The empathy with those who work at sea, who are often subjected to hard and stressful rhythms, bring us look with gratitude at the unknown commitment of thousands of people who find the source of life in the sea.


Stella Maris chaplains continue to provide support to seafarers, fishers and their families during the Covid-19 crisis, working in close partnership with Stella Maris colleagues around the world, the maritime industry, trades unions and others.

This includes undertaking port visits in order to provide welfare packages and other support to seafarers and fishers, with the permission of port authorities and in full compliance with Government directives. We also continue to support seafarers, fishers and their families via telephone social media.

Please continue to pray for seafarers, fishers, their families and the mission of Stella Maris.

How we are supporting Seafarers in the UK

Stella Maris Clyde port chaplain Deacon Joe O'Donnell takes some supplies to fishermen in Ayrshire

Our Clyde port chaplain Deacon Joe O'Donnell recently took food supplies to some foreign fishermen who work in the Ayrshire Coast as things were getting tight for them.

Posted by Apostleship of the Sea on Friday, 22 May 2020
Our Clyde port chaplain Deacon Joe O’Donnell recently took food supplies to some foreign fishermen who work in the Ayrshire Coast as things were getting tight for them.  While down there he met a couple of fishermen who told him they were desperate for a bike. Joe says, “It’s wonderful how the Holy Spirit works as I had my spare bike in the car which I gifted them. I will continue to support these guys in the coming weeks.”
Stella Maris East Anglia Port Chaplain Julian Wong reminds us of the sacrifices seafarers continue to make amid Covid-19

Most seafarers are used to being away from family and friends for months at a time and being confined to their ship and to the port area. It's all part of life at sea and the job they do, as our East Anglia port chaplain Julian Wong reminds us in this video. But now many have to spend weeks in quarantine when they get to the end of their contracts and return home, adding to the wait to see their loved ones. Thank you for continuing to keep seafarers in prayer.

Posted by Apostleship of the Sea on Monday, 25 May 2020
Most seafarers are used to being away from family and friends for months at a time and being confined to their ship and to the port area. It’s all part of life at sea and the job they do, as our East Anglia port chaplain Julian Wong reminds us in this video. But now many have to spend weeks in quarantine when they get to the end of their contracts and return home, adding to the wait to see their loved ones
Stella Maris supporters in Southampton, Myra and her husband Deacon Andy Philpott offer a message of hope to seafarers. It is addressed in English and Filipino to seafarers who may be experiencing distress and to encourage anyone in need of help to contact one of our port chaplains.

Here’s a look at how our some of our Stella Maris colleagues globally are supporting seafarers and fishers in spite of the restrictions placed on ship visiting and the fast-moving situation of the Covid-19 virus.

Monsignor Vincent Harvey, parish priest of St Joseph’s and St Edmund’s Southampton celebrates Mass for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time with special intentions and blessings for Roman RIP, ship’s doctor, for his family, crew of his ship and for Stella Maris.

Posted by Apostleship of the Sea Australia on Tuesday, 5 May 2020
A lovely Mass celebrated by Apostleship of the Sea (Stella Maris) Australia Bishop Promoter especially for chaplains, centre managers, ship visitors, committee members and volunteers – in essence the carers who care for seafarers.
Filipino seafarers in lockdown in our Stella Maris Seafarers Centres in Manila during Covid show their appreciation and gratitude to Caritas Manila and Caritas International for providing much-needed food supplies etc. Thank you for your amazing generosity!