History of the Apostleship of the Sea
In the late 1800’s, various Catholic Seamen’s Missions were in operation under various auspices, catering for the spiritual, social and material welfare of visiting crews in the ports of London, Bottle, Montreal, New York, New Orleans and Melbourne.
In France, the Augustinians of the Assumption had founded the ‘Société des Oeuvres de Mer’ in December, 1894, with the object of bringing medical, material, moral and religious assistance to French seafarers and those of other nations, especially those engaged in the deep-sea fisheries off Iceland, on the Newfoundland Banks and the Faroes Islands. By the late 1890s, a formal program of ship visitation had been inaugurated by the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in many ports in Britain, and other scattered ports around the world.
It was however, in the port of Glasgow, that Father Egger sj, launched the first branch of the Apostleship of the Sea under the auspices of the Apostleship of Prayer Society. It is recorded that during the first eight years it functioned (1899-1907), over 200,000 seafarers were admitted into the Apostleship of the Sea.
Father Egger sj together with Arthur Gannon and Peter Anson, who continued to be the inspiration of this internationally orientated ship visiting group, submitted the framework and constitutions of this young movement to the Holy See for formal approval. Approval was readily given by letter from Cardinal Gasparri, Secretary of State, dated April 22, 1922. It conveyed the “approval and encouragement” of the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI.
“. . . with the certain knowledge that so noble an enterprise, ably seconded by the zeal of priestly souls both secular and regular, will spread more and more along the shores of both hemispheres . . . ”
These words did in fact prove prophetic for, what began as a voluntary lay movement of zealous souls, did evolve in a few short years into a world-wide pastoral and welfare organisation with, at the end of World War II, 80 centres functioning and an international council already established in Rome under the care of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation. The final seal of approval came with the granting to the Apostleship of the Sea and approval by the Holy See of its Laws and Constitutions on November 21, 1957. Apostolatus Maris – the work of the Church.
From 1970 Apostolatus Maris, the Apostleship of the Sea, was under the direction of the Vatican through the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerant People. In 2017 the Apostleship of the Sea came under the direction of the Dicastery For Promoting Human Integral Development when several Pontifical Council were absorbed into the one body.
The Apostleship of the Sea is not merely another organisation within the Catholic Church, it is, by its approved Norms and Constitution, an integral part of the pastoral structure of the Universal Church. Nevertheless, its practical implementation however, is the clear responsibility of the local Church, as clearly set out in the II Vatican Council Decree “Christus Dominus”, on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, No. 18:
Special concern should be shown for those members of the faithful who, on account of their way of life, are not adequately catered for by the ordinary pastoral ministry of the parochial clergy or are entirely deprived of it. These include the many migrants, exiles and refugees, seafarers and airmen, nomads and others of this kind.
The Apostleship of the Sea is, in many respects, very much an evolving entity which, apart from fundamental principles, will respond to the local pastoral needs of maritime people as experienced in any particular place and time. It also takes into account the ever changing circumstances of the on-board life of the seafarer and indeed the fundamental ways in which those conditions of life and work affect the seafarer’s own family situation, be he fisherman or merchant seafarer.
It is not an accident that seafarers centres in ports world wide have traditionally been referred to as Seamen’s Missions. Despite the fact that in those far off days, the percentage of foreigners among seafarers in any port would be fewer by far than now, the missionary dimension of the maritime ministry was not overlooked.
Apostleship of the Sea often works in ecumenical cooperation with other Christian organisation which share the same ideals of justice, solidarity and fraternity, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Apostleship of the Sea in 1968 was a founding-member of the ecumenical International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) which today brings together over 20 member-organisations caring for the people of the sea.
The results of the 1987 ICMA sponsored Seafarers’ Survey confirm that a considerable percentage of the seafarers coming into our ports are non Christians, many of whom are open to hearing the Good News, perhaps for the first time.
The practical implementation of pastoral care to seafarers & fishermen, and to their families in any region, diocese or port, is the clear responsibility of the local Church. To ensure that this happens, the Norms of the Apostleship of the Sea provide for the appointment at the level of Episcopal Conferences, a special Commission, or at least a Bishop Promoter, to supervise, foster and promote the Apostleship of the Sea. Today many centre use the name Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre, a title given to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, our patron.
Most countries host an annual conference bringing together those who work and care for seafarers & fishers. The Dicastery For Promoting Human Integral Development organises and conducts a world congress every five years. This ensures an understanding and continuity of the work between countries in light of the Church’s norms and practices.