by Susan Huppert, NAMMA
The Stella Maris Maritime Ministry has all hands on deck for its global Christmas giving. The ministry, under the Archdiocese of Mobile, is one of a worldwide network providing spiritual and material support to people who live and work at sea.
Students from Christ the King Catholic School near the Port of Mobile, lift large blue bags they fill with Christmas gifts into the back of the vehicle parked outside the school doors. Their response to the seafarers who they will never meet is their spiritual offering at Christmas.
Each year, 1600 vessels will dock in the Port of Mobile with about 30,000 seafarers from multiple countries. Caring for them is the mission of Deacon John Archer, ministry Administrator, and his team of 10 trained volunteers.
“These are isolated, lonely people who are on their vessels for many months. When they come here we regard them as our neighbors and someone goes out to meet them,” he said.
Access to Wi-Fi aids seafarers in communicating with their families is a key provision. The Catholic outreach also provides seafarers with Bibles, prayer books, rosaries and an opportunity to celebrate Mass.
There are 12 parishes in the Archdiocese of Mobile. During the Christmas season, the gifts which come together from many sources communicate to seafarers that someone is thinking of them. The Knights of Columbus sort hundreds of donated items including toiletries, stocking hats, socks and sweets, in preparation for others to fill the 500 Christmas bags given annually. Some fill the sturdy nylon bags. Others deliver them.
“That is very helpful to fill in the gaps,” said Archer.
Through this partnership, awareness grows of how personal homes and neighborhoods benefit from seafarers who transport 90 percent of the world’s goods.
During the pandemic, a drop in donations and volunteers hindered giving. Now the ministry is gaining back support. This year a $300 grant from the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, dispersed by the NAMMA was a welcome addition.
“We had a lot more to do,” said Archer. “It helped things feel more normal.”
The Stella Maris ministry coordinates with a second outreach, the Port Ministry International which shares the goal to reach as many seafarers as possible during the Christmas season.
“Seafarers are great people doing a hard job; and they are alone at Christmas,” said Archer.
It’s the holidays,” He said. “How would you feel?”
So, gifts and spiritual care are directed to each ship. Seafarers that are on vessels at sea on Christmas will find a gift held back for their late arrival.
“They love it,” said Archer. “The response that really hit me was, ‘thank you for thinking about us.’”
Photo: courtesy of Stella Maris Mobile