VATICAN CITY — While governments and shipping companies had reason to cancel seafarers’ shore leave during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are vaccinated and take precautions now have a right to shore leave, said Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

In a message for Sea Sunday, celebrated July 10 this year, the cardinal thanked seafarers for their hard work and sacrifices and urged Catholics to recognize just how much they rely on seafarers for the food they eat and the goods they enjoy.

He also asked them to recognize how dangerous seafarers’ jobs can be, especially those sailing in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov because of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Insisting that shipping companies and nations must take seriously the rights of seafarers, Czerny focused his message on the right to shore leave.

“The ability to leave the vessel and go ashore, if only for a short time, is crucial for seafarers’ well-being,” he said.

“Most of us take for granted the freedom we have to go outside, enjoy open spaces, place our feet on firm ground or soft grass and see different people,” he said. “But seafarers have no such freedom. They cannot leave the ship, and every day they walk on metal floors and see the same faces. The only way they can share in the freedom we enjoy is to have access to shore leave. They may only have a couple of hours but that can make all the difference.”

And while the denial of shore leave was important during the pandemic to protect both the seafarers and the people they could meet on shore, now that countries are opening their borders and lifting restrictions, seafarers who are vaccinated should be allowed to leave their ships in port.

“Most people are now able to move freely again. But not seafarers. And this is a gross injustice,” he said. “Even though they are fully vaccinated, seafarers are frequently denied the free movement we enjoy. Why? Because several governments and shipping companies still refuse to allow seafarers to go ashore. To add insult to injury, some seafarers are allowed to go ashore if they are the ‘correct nationality.'”

“This discrimination is as unjust as it is immoral,” Czerny wrote.