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A New Seafarer Centre in Portsmouth

The Apostleship of the Sea


Mission - Solidarity - Welfare - Hospitality

Geoff Breeze reports on progress:
"The local team of AOS in Portsmouth have been planning for some time to provide a portacabin with telephones, Internet and e-mail facilities and some recreational facilities within the port complex at Portsmouth. The port shipping agent, MMD, very kindly donated a plot of land on which to place a portacabin. The group are fully aware of the limited amount of space in the Flathouse Quay area of the port, and they are very grateful to MMD for providing this plot. The Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) has also kindly donated a grant to cover the cost of setting up the portcabin.

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The portable building was being delivered to the commercial docks in Portsmouth on Tuesday 20th November. After an intense period of fitting out, the telephone lines for the computer and Internet connections were installed in early January. IT equipment was installed two weeks later to render the facility, known as the Stella Maris Seafarer Centre, fully functional.

The team are very grateful to St Peter’s Church in the Witterings for a most generous donation of £600.00 from the 2007 fete, which has helped enormously towards the costs of providing these much-needed facilities.

Grateful thanks are also due to the parish priest of Park Gate parish, Whiteley, Fareham for the donation of furniture for the comfort of the seafarers and to St Anthony’s School, Whiteley for the donation of essential IT equipment.

The centre is well used by the visiting seafarers and there is often a small queue waiting to use the telephones and the Internet facilities. While waiting they are able to relax in a convivial, friendly atmosphere and make use of the varied reading material is available for their benefit."

Welcoming Hand of Friendship

As Apostleship of the Sea volunteer ship visitors in the port of Portsmouth, Geoff Breeze from St Peter's and Elfi Ip from Fareham find the comradeship of the sea especially rewarding. Geoff reports on volunteer work done for the benefit of mariners visiting Portsmouth :

"One summer afternoon, between a meeting with the port authority and their scheduled ship visits, Elfi and I found we had time to spare. We decided to watch for the arrival of the Santa Lucia, one of the ships which we visit regularly, which was due to return from the dry dock in Zeebrugge. As the ship usually arrives at night, this would be a rare opportunity to take photos.

We raced to the Round Tower, a well-known landmark at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. We were rewarded with the sight of the Santa Lucia on the approaches to the shipping canal. As she entered the harbour on her way to the commercial docks, we waved to the seafarers on deck. To our delight, the crew waved back, recognising the ship visitors from previous visits. Later, when we made their scheduled visit onboard, the crew thanked us for their unexpected act of welcome to Portsmouth.

Pastoral care.

Such simple acts of friendship can be very important to people on the move. They are part of the pastoral care which AOS ship visitors such as we offer to seafarers. Sometimes this care takes the form of practical services. Recently the crew of the Santa Maria asked for help in obtaining a dartboard and chess set. Life at sea is hard work so leisure activities are especially important.

Pastoral care is also about the spiritual. When we realised that the spiritual needs of seafarers’ were not being met, we looked for a creative solution. This shown in the following section

Spirituality and Sacred Space for Seafarers in Portsmouth

Spiritual deprivation is rarely mentioned as an important issue affecting the lives of seafarers. However the AOS pastoral team in Portsmouth, England, know that the spiritual welfare of seafarers must accompany their physical welfare. Elfi Ip and I, both ship visitors in Portsmouth, realised that when seafarers are asked if they need any help, they are often shy and do not make their requests openly.

In order to solve this problem, the Portsmouth team decided to include a questionnaire when distributing news and information pamphlets among crews. To their great surprise, the most requested items were Bibles and the celebration of Mass at each port of call. Clearly the crew’s spiritual needs were very important to them.

On many of the ships that we visited, there was no private place where members of the crew could meditate or pray. Seafarers clearly needed a sacred space where they could be alone with God. Elfi and I spoke to the Chief Officer of one such ship, the Coldstream, and suggested providing a chapel. He discussed it with the Captain and fellow crew members who were all very enthusiastic. The AOS team provided a crucifix, several icons and a Bible. These were placed in an unused cabin on the ship. This “sacred space” is now used every day when the ship is at sea.

On another ship, although an empty cabin was unavailable, the Captain asked his engineers to build a large cabinet and have it erected in the Crews Mess. This also contains a crucifix, icons and a bible for use at quiet times.

Discussions have since taken place with the Masters and Officers of eight more ships and the team are pleased to confirm that they all have “cupboard type” altars, all of differing sizes and styles to suit the ships and the capabilities of the ship's bosun/carpenter. Two other ships are in the process of building these altars for installation within the next month or so.

One such ship is the Elvira. When the AOS team raised the subject with Captain Olimato Galang, he was very enthusiastic and immediately asked his bosun to start building an altar. When the ship returned to Portsmouth four weeks later, the Captain and crew invited the AOS pastoral team to visit the officers’ rest room where the completed altar was in position.

The team supplied a crucifix, Stella Maris icon, rosary beads and candles. A Holy Communion service was held to celebrate the dedication of the altar, which the AOS team was delighted to attend.

Two weeks later, we received the following message in an email from Captain Galang expressing the thanks of the seafarers.

MV Elvira's mini chapel

"What makes Filipinos different is their unwavering faith in God. Their faith is what protect them from every battle of nostalgic and give them the triumph to happiness. They never forget giving thanks to our Lord for the blessings and trials that come along the journey of their lives. Most especially the friends that they meet along the way. Here in M/V Elvira, you cannot feel homesickness because of the crews’ camaraderie that treats each other not only as colleague but also as true friends.

As faithful as we are to our Good God, the crew requested Mr. Geoffrey Breeze and Mrs Elfi Ip of the Apostles of the Sea (Seaman’s Mission), Portsmouth, U.K. U.K. to provide an altar for the ship. It was then agreed that the ship is to make an altar and the seaman’s mission will provide the cross, candles, and other materials for the altar. Joyfully, on the 15th of October, the altar was finally made real. After the altar was mounted, a Holy Communion in the ship was then celebrated with the ship’s crew.

Thanks to Mr. Breeze & Mrs Ip, the crew can now spend some time in a solemn prayer room where they can reflect and say their prayers for the safety of the vessel and the families we left home, hoping that we will be reunited again in safety, love and loyalty.

Now, our officer’s smoke room is converted into a prayer room where the altar is sited. Consequently, every time our ship calls Portsmouth, Seaman’s Mission come on board and celebrates Holy Communion or Holy Mass with the ship’s crew and the crew of other ships nearby."

So, providing sacred space for spirituality is indeed an ongoing success story for seafarers in Portsmouth!


Note:

Apostleship of the Sea is an agency of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales. AOS was founded in Glasgow in 1922 and has since spread to 89 countries around the world. It is both a mission and welfare outreach of the church, providing help to all seafarers regardless of colour, creed or nationality. AOS works closely with its ecumenical partners in mission: Mission to Seafarers and British & International Sailors' Society, as well as Deutsche Seemannsmission and the Nordic seafarer societies.

Further details from:

John Green, Assistant Director of Fundraising & Media
Commodore Chris York, National Director
020 7588 8285
Email johngreen@apostleshipofthesea.org.uk AOS website: Apostleship of the Sea