by Susan Huppert, NAMMA
The dynamic seafarers’ ministry in the Port of Port Arthur, Texas, is welcoming seafarers to its center with Christmas cheer and boarding ships with gifts. The local Stella Maris outreach operates through the Diocese of Beaumont under the leadership of Fr. Sinclair Oubre. He has been the Diocesan Director of Stella Maris (previously known as Apostleship of the Sea) since 1988 with a strong commitment to the seafarers, shrimpers and fisher-people of the area. The Diocese of Beaumont is the United States’ third largest maritime center, including Port Arthur.
At Port Arthur, the awareness and care of seafarers began in the mid-1930s growing and changing leadership and locations with time. It hit a dormant stage and was revived and recreated in 1973. It now actively cares for its port community, international seafarers and those associated from the Port Arthur International Seafarer Center.
Thanks to its cross-section of local mission partners, from large corporate donors to St. Henry’s Catholic Church confirmation class to a pilot’s wife sewing gift bags, the ministry plans to give nearly 2,000 Christmas bags to seafarers this year.
Community volunteers have been assembling the bags with contents donated from area churches. Gifts including puzzles, sanitizers, socks, hats, toiletries, candy and mints, masks, and snacks fill the bags for the international crew members.
A comment from a seafarer posted on the ministry website provides feedback about the outreach:
“After our 6-12 hr. shift with my mates we went home to ‘A Home Very Far Away from Home’ we were greeted with warm smiles of the volunteers there and a hot coffee!! Wow! It’s been awhile since I’ve left home (Bacolod City, Negroc Occidental) but I felt as if am really home especially for this yuletide season. Unexpectedly we went back to our ship carrying bags of Christmas gifts for all of the crew! WOW! The accommodation and generosity of those people we won’t forget!! Thanks very much Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center and to those kind-hearted ladies! Merry Christmas from the Officers and Crew of MT Sea Helios!!!”
Interim Director of the center, Doreen Badeaux has been at the Port Arthur International Seafarer Center since 1995 and shares her keen insight regarding seafarers and the motivation to serve them. Badeaux serves also as the director of the Apostleship of the Sea-USA, the professional association of Catholic maritime ministers, cruise ship priests, mariners and all those who support the ministry to the People of the Sea.
“When you are at sea for nine to 11 months the seafarers can almost feel like they are just a part of a machine,” she said.
“Some facilities treat them like a nuisance in a port. It is rather dehumanizing,” said Badeaux. This reinforces the feeling of being an unwanted nuisance.
We realize they are there and we appreciate what they do.”
Louvenia Harding coordinates the gift bag program and serves as the head driver. One of her concerns is seafarers’ welfare.
“If a ship is at sea for a long time and they either come in or can’t get off, we give them necessities. We offer food. We gather around and we talk. They come out of the woodwork and are happy that someone talks to them. This shows we care about them,” she said.
“Last week, I met up with Miguel to check on the welfare of the crew,” said Harding.
When I delivered Christmas gifts to him, he secretly placed one outside each seafarer’s cabin door.”
Ship by ship, Christmas is dispersed.
Due to a week of fog earlier, about 500 bags have been delivered so far to more than 19 ships. Giving will extend into January for ships that may have been at sea for Christmas.
Oubre recently met seafarers sailing for Exon who had received gift bags from the Port Arthur center.
The seafarers told him that it was “so special to me that here at Christmas someone remembered me.”
For those who work at sea, Christmas is all about being remembered, where ever you are.