WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some of the victims of the coronavirus are an already unseen group that now has a big role to play in the pandemic.
During a May 22 online prayer service via Zoom, those who work with mariners and other maritime workers via the Apostleship of the Sea ministry praised them, their work and their sacrifice as they keep essential goods moving during the pandemic, even as they or their families have been affected.
“As you all know, during this difficult time, seafarers are essential to the movement of goods, including food and medical supplies,” said Sister Joanna Okereke, national director of the Apostleship of the Sea ministry, reminding those gathered of the importance of those they minister.
Along with Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of Victoria, Texas, the ministry’s bishop promoter, Okereke said she believed it was important to continue this year, even in the midst of a pandemic, the tradition of dedicating the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea — this time via Zoom.
With a virtual background that featured water, Okereke, of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, urged the continued accompaniment of maritime workers.
“In these challenging times, let us trust that God will protect and provide for us, let us continue to pray for one another, accompany one another, provide spiritual guidance and a listening ear,” she said. “I urge you to find ways and means to stay in touch with each other, reach out and share the love of God; for, together we can bear the burden of each other.”
The bishop, directing his prayer to the maritime workers, urged them to “know that you are not forgotten, know of our love for you each and every day.”
The work of the ministry, which involves offering seafarers rides to errands such as essential shopping when they’re on land, staffing a seafarer center and just easing their loneliness by having a conversation with them, largely came to a halt with arrival of the coronavirus and social-distancing measures.
The ministry, which began in the U.S. in 1976, is part of the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers in the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and its work includes caring for the spiritual life of those who work in the seas.
Deacons, chaplains and others who worked with the maritime workers remembered their work with them, voiced their worries for the workers’ welfare, and offered prayers for those workers who find themselves stranded on ships that aren’t able to dock, for those who are still toiling away from their families or who are sick or have sick family members. One said she had been talking to them via Facebook and at least in one occasion, the ship had allowed care packages for the workers on board.
Deacon Paul Rosenblum, a port minister for the Apostleship of the Sea ministry of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, recalled the work among the maritime workers, calling it a “ministry of small miracles.”
He recalled how at the end of the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus commission his disciples and gave the power to perform miracles.
“I haven’t miraculously healed anyone of a disease, never spoken in tongues,” he said. “But as I reflect on this, I realize that I’m performing miracles myself … all of us in this ministry are performing miracles. They may not be the spectacular miracles like the Lord’s, but they are miracles all the same, small ones, that is what our ministry is at our very core.”
Some of those “small miracles” included having conversations with the maritime workers in centers or onboard their ships.
“Every time, every conversation about their home and family, their work, their life at sea, every time we take time to listen to them, when they tell us about their joys and sorrows, we perform a miracle of healing by lightening their load,” he said.
“Every time we transport seafarers for shopping or medical help or any other need, anytime we console a seafarer who has lost a family member, every time we do anything that shows them that they are people, not just equipment on board their vessels,” Rosenblum said, “we perform a miracle of healing by treating them with the dignity of healing they deserve.”
“Many of our AOS centers, chaplains and volunteers are playing critical roles, risking their lives, working to provide care in various new ways. They deserve our support, our thanks and our prayers,” Okereke.
Cahill, connecting with speakers and others gathered for the prayer from coast to coast and various points around the U.S., reminded all of God’s accompaniment and healing.
“If we can think of healing in our lives and how we’ve come to experiencing healing … we pray that our hearts may be large in caring for one another,” and that those experiencing loneliness may realize “that they may feel alone but that they are loved and cherished,” he said. “In the midst of the storm, God creates something beautiful.”