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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People

XXI World Congress of Apostolatus Maris

Opening Address

Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President of the Pontifical Council

1. Greetings

A few minutes ago we have been gathered in the beautiful Candelaria Church, to pray the Lord for the gift of constantly searching for the will of God. We have come here in Rio with the desire of a renewed commitment to serve the maritime world to the best of our ability. We are now in this beautiful and well equipped Conference Centre of the Guanabara Palace Hotel, to start doing what we came for: praying, reflecting, sharing and planning on the theme of our Congress: “Apostleship of the Sea in a new globalised world”.

We are in Rio de Janeiro, and it is for the first ever AOS Congress in Latin America, in the City which hosted – it is worthy to note it - the first historical Earth Summit in 1992.

Before going further, let me present to you the first of my collaborators, H. E. Msgr Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council. He has kindly agreed to chair the proceedings of the Congress, and, in due time, to share with you his concluding observations.

And now I welcome you all.  Welcome first to our distinguished guests, the Archbishops and Bishops Promoters of 15 maritime countries who have answered our invitation. Welcome to the distinguished observers as well as to those who have accepted my invitation to address the Congress in various ways, in conferences or workshops. I wish to greet in particular the Rev. Sakari Lehmuskallio and his colleagues in the leadership of ICMA who represent here the 28 Christian Maritime Agencies which serve seafarers and their families, alongside the Catholic Apostleship of the Sea.

Welcome to all the Chaplains and Pastoral Assistants of the Apostleship of the Sea, the lay Members delegates of nearly 60 maritime countries: fishers, seafarers, spouses, volunteers in Seafarers Centres, maritime personnel. I should think that some among you have attended up to four or five AOS Congresses! For many however it will be the first. Let me mention at least the countries which, for the first time, have been sending a delegation to an AOS World Congress: a special welcome to Cuba, Ecuador, Nigeria, Peru, Samoa, Ukraine and Venezuela.

I would like to remember here several of our friends known by many among you and whom the Lord has led to the Port of Heaven: Fr Ray Maher, Fr François Le Gall, Fr Michel Maes, Msgr. Costantino Stefanetti, Msgr. Frans Lambrechts, Bro. Yves Aubron and Mr Graham Chambers. You may be thinking of others, let us remember them all in our prayers and keep them in our thoughts during this Congress.

2. Preparing the Congress

During the last two years, much effort has gone into preparing this Congress: I wish to put on record the work of the AOS Regional Co-ordinators and of our staff in Rome; the work of the National and Regional Conferences held throughout the world, which were all centred on the theme of our Congress; and the fantastic work of the Local Organising Committee here in Rio. I am most grateful to all of you. Much financial resources had to be found, and I shall not wait for the end of the Congress to thank all the individual benefactors and the Agencies which have made it possible. I will mention in particular with gratitude the Seafarers Trust of ITF, CAFOD, CCFD, MISEREOR and… some Dicateries of the Holy.

3. The theme

The theme we have chosen should help us address the very urgent issues you encounter everyday on the waterfront. In the universal view, globalisation is this context in which the AOS must today offer its fraternal support to all seafarers and their families, whatever their culture, civilisation or religion and provide the tens of thousand Catholics of nearly all countries in the world, with the specific pastoral ministry which they have a right to. Here are the questions which we shall have to ask ourselves all along this Congress: How ready is the Apostleship of the Sea to address the problems, especially the pastoral ones, facing the people of the Sea in this new context? Does it have the means to do so with confidence, competence and professionalism? What to do for having them?

Since the day seafarers proved to a doubting if not cynic “landlocked” humanity that the Planet is a quasi-sphere or a globe, we see the global dimension of everything maritime reaching a level difficult to imagine or to describe. This new global dimension has, of course, also affected those who work on ships, on fishing of merchant vessels, as well as those who work in ports, to a level which, today, is very difficult to evaluate or to manage. 

The “human beings” who are at the centre of the concerns of the Apostleship of the Sea, meeting here for its XXI° World Congress, are the millions of women and men around the world whose life and work are fundamentally linked with the Sea. Let us hope that at the end of this Congress, we shall know them better and that the Apostleship of the Sea will be better equipped to accompany them and to provide them with the spiritual (and sacramental for Catholics), practical and social support which they need.

The Holy Father offers us guidance and support in our search. For the last twenty years he has been an indefatigable advocate of human rights and human dignity. He has told us again and again that the human person is not made for economy but that economy is for human development

“Globalisation, a priori, is neither good nor bad”, says the Holy Father, “it will be what the people make of it”. “If we are faced with a human phenomenon, this means that it is a “sign of our times” in which one must discover “the positive aspects” and avoid “the dangers”. (Address at the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, April 27, 2001)

For Pope John Paul, the first principle that must govern all human activities is “the inalienable value of the human person, source of all human rights and of every social order. The human being must always be an end and not a means, a subject and not an object, nor a commodity of trade” (Address at the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences). Hence the globalisation of the economy must be followed by the globalisation of genuine human rights.

In this context, the task of the Apostleship of the Sea is clear: it is to contribute to the best of our ability, to bringing this “globalisation of solidarity” in the maritime world, in spite of the ever increasing and often threatening impact of certain economic globalisation on the life and work of maritime people. The Gospel values will be finally the gauge with which to judge the work of the Apostleship of the Sea.

4.  1997 - 2002

We do not start with a ‘tabula rasa’ ! Twenty World Congresses have constituted the backbone of the growth of the AOS. That of Davao in 1997, a few months after the publication of the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Stella Maris, has not been without fruits. I shall mention only a few:

the strengthening of the role of Regional Coordinators who have now their annual meeting,

the new training programmes elaborated for AOS people in UK, Italy, Australia, Mexico, Ukraine and surely other countries,

the creation of several national websites and the website created by AOS-Europe, now covering the whole world,

the recruitment of more lay persons in the leadership of the AOS, and the involvement of more port personnel in the apostolate

the full participation of the AOS to programmes initiated by the I.C.M.A. Executive Committee, like the Crisis Preparedness Programme (CPC), the Seafarers Ministry Training, the International Seafarers Assistance Network (I.S.A.N.) and, last not least, the Sailing Chaplains Project. The very positive findings of this research will be made known to you in detail in a Workshop entirely devoted to it.

I will mention finally the memorable celebration of the Jubilee of the People of the Sea with the Holy Father in Rome two years ago which I had the pleasure of leading.

5. Conclusion 

During our Congress we shall navigate along the course set for us by the Programme Committee. I have found it quite stimulating and appropriate to reach our aim. I shall not say more about it now. It will be developed as the days go by and Msgr Marchetto will help us along the way. Let me just say a few words concerning the objective which I have set for our Congress: a better service by the Apostleship of the Sea to the People of the Sea, in the lines of its constitution, of course..

I would like to end this introductory speech by referring to the remarks of the Holy Father John Paul II in Sollicitudo Rei socialis nr 17: “either development becomes shared in common by every part of the world, or it undergoes a process of regression even in those marked by constant progress”. Active solidarity is the best guarantee for the future sustainable development of all those who work in the shipping and fishing industries as well as of the coastal fisher communities. It is the best safeguard for their prosperity.  

As President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, it is my pleasure, now, to declare “OPEN” the XXI° World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, the first of the XXI° Century and of the Third Millenium! And now I shall ask Mons Marchetto to lead the proceedings of this Congress.

Thank you.