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News from Oceania

ICMA Conference Hamburg

timo maryReflections on the ICMA World Conference
Sr Mary Leahy rsj. (Sydney)

On August 19th this year I arrived in Hamburg for the tenth ICMA World Conference. I had attended ICMA regional meetings in Taiwan and Cebu many years back and found such gatherings to be very beneficial at all levels, but particularly at the ecumenical level.

This conference was no different. Over 200 Chaplains/Pastoral workers, welfare workers and representatives of the Maritime industry gathered together to engage in dialogue, to listen, learn, to challenge and be challenged as we embraced the theme outlined by ICMA 'Promoting Seafarers' Dignity'.

Among the many Christian groups represented were Baptist, Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist, Evangelical, Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian etc.

The theme 'Promoting Seafarers' Dignity' was close to all our hearts and therefore was a source of great unity. The input and workshops helped us to listen to each others' differences as well as the commonality of our approach in honouring the dignity of seafarers. We teased out issues around 'how' we celebrate the 'Good News' of the Gospel in our interactions with seafarers. This all happened in a safe and respectful setting. And yes! there were passionate and difficult moments to navigate.!

While the official Speakers presented all the necessary and current information on the MLC, Piracy etc. (All the papers can be read on the ICMA website), a highlight for me was the talk delivered by Hendrik La Grange (ICMA executive). Hendrik spoke on the theology and spirituality underpinning all our practical activities in the line of our ministry to seafarers, be they social, welfare, political, religious... His imput was respectful of us all, whatever our 'modus operandi' may be. At the same time he challenged us to look deep into our hearts to get in touch with our own motivations, our personal experience of God. He encouraged us to nurture/develop our relationship with God as it is from this our passion for the ministry is energized.

Hendrik reminded us all of the fact that God is already present in the seafarer, thereby freeing us from any obligation we may feel that we alone 'bring God to the seafarer, or onboard'. Instead he suggested our ministry can flourish as we meet God in the seafarer, we meet and celebrate the presence of God who is already onboard when we visit ships. And it is this reality that we endeavour to nourish in the course of ALL our activities. This then can bring a whole new outlook to our activities.

Another obvious highlight was being with 50 other AOS people from around the world. Each morning we celebrated the Eucharist before the Ecumenical Morning Prayer. We also had a wonderful visit to the Stella Maris Centre in Hamburg where Fr. Bruno facilitated a meeting for us, during which we shared our ideas on the upcoming AOS Conference to be held in Rome next year. Afterwards we enjoyed the familiar hospitality of the AOS team in Hamburg with appropriate refreshments!

AOS ChaplainsAs always, a visit to the Port was on the cards! It was certainly an eye opener for me to see the number of Ships tied up and the vastness and busyness of the whole Port area. (I swore I'd never again complain about having to visit 6 or 7 ships in one day ...but I will of course)!! At the end of our Port visit we had dinner at the Seafarers' Centre which is situated within the Port. That in itself was a great experience and highlighted for me the need for something similar to be within every port in the world. It was a-buzz with seafarers who had limited time to spend ashore. A special feature that stood out for me was their Prayer Room which had 'Icons''Statues' 'Scriptures' representing many religions. There was space enough between each one for a seafarer to engage with his/her own sacred religious expression. It was beautiful!

The ICMA Conference ended on August 23rd with an Ecumenical service at the St Michael's Church, where each region participated. Since Lawrence (AOS Melbourne) and Bishop Garry (Mts. Australia) had already left, I was the lucky one to represent Australia in offering a prayer of thanksgiving.

Any international conference which is held in Europe, even our AOS ones tend to be a bit 'Eurocentric'. However I would encourage us to have a presence at ICMA conferences for as long as we can afford it. Lest 'they' forget we exist down here and lest they not hear of the wonderful and often innovative Australian expressions of AOS ministry

Thank you once again AOS Australia for giving me the opportunity to attend the ICMA World Conference.

Photographs: (top) Timo from Finnish Seamen's Mission and Sr Mary AOS Sydney. (bottom) AOS Chaplains and volunteers in the Chapel at AOS Hamburg

More photographs can be found in the Photo Gallery

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