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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 102, December 2006



European Regional AOS Conference*




Theme: In Solidarity with the people of the Sea as Witnesses of Hope through Proclamation of the Word, Liturgy and Diakonia.


1. There were more than 67 participants and the countries represented were:

Poland, Italy, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Croatia, Malta, The Ukraine and Germany. The Greek delegate at the last minute was prevented from coming. The Portuguese sent their apologies.

There were two Bishop Promoters present during the whole conference, Their Excellencies Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski of Gandsk and Bishop Tom Burns of Great-Britain. HE Bishop Lino Belotti, Bishop Promoter for Italy paid a visit and addressed the conference on Tuesday afternoon.

2. The Conference was declared open by His Eminence Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, President of the PCPCMIP, who in his speech underlined the importance of Solidarity, the Social doctrine of the Church and the formation of the heart. In addition, he recommended that each AOS Chaplaincy be acquainted with the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church”, to respond the many challenges facing us in the maritime world today. Confronted with tragedies and exploitation, AOS must build bridges. We respect people because they are children of God. Jesus came to save and redeem humanity, the social Doctrine of the Church is a practical approach to share that salvation with others.

3. On Monday the theological background of the Conference was developed by Fr Christophe Roucou, of the Mission de France: Christians are witnesses of hope sometimes “against all hope” (Rom 4.18). They are as pilgrims on the road to Emmaus, sharing with others the difficulties and concerns for the future. To hope is “an act of faith in the future” it is not optimism as opposed to pessimism. Christian hope is rooted in Christ (1Tim1: 1), who has risen from the dead. Although Hope has an eschatological dimension, it is also a virtue for today. We witness hope not only with words but also in “act”, let us not forget that God has committed Himself not only in Words but also by sending us Jesus, His Son. 

4. Some highlights of the country Reports:

AOS- Malta: There is no centre and the apostolate there revolves mainly around ship visiting and eucharistic celebrations on board. The Chaplain is fully engaged.

AOS-Ukraine: The arrangement regarding the Bishop Promoters that was suggested by PCPCMIP seems to be working. The Apostolate there faces great financial difficulties, the chaplain has no means of transport, no centre and relies heavily on the cooperation with Missions to Seafarers (Anglican) to carry out his ministry. They also have a link with Rev Olexander Kenez of the Ukrainian Seafarers mission of Melbourne, Australia.They have a website.

AOS-Germany: Although there is no “National AOS” at the moment, the work of “Stella Maris Germany” is still going on in Bremen, Brake and Hamburg. It is hoped that for the World Congress, but certainly in two years time, everything will be settled and the situation will go back to normal.

AOS-Great Britain: With the recruitment of three Chaplains/ship visitors in Scotland, AOS has taken a new departure there.

AOS-Croatia: There are no centres but there are 8 chaplains active in the ports and with fishers. There have not been many contacts with the AOS International, they should be encouraged to participate to the World Congress next year.

AOS-Netherlands: The new Seafarers Centre in Rotterdam is a great success in spite of the many obstacles that they have encountered so far. 

AOS-Italy: Their efforts to start Port Welfare Committees in the Italian ports have been very successful. The Admiral-in-Charge of Italian coastguards, who was invited to address the assembly, announced that a general pass to allow AOS-Italy to access the port facilities in Italy has been approved.

M de la M-France, AOS-Spain and AOS-Portugal: There had been a fruitful collaboration between France, Spain and Portugal on Fishing issues. The Spanish AOS National Director has agreed to improve contacts with other countries and AOS-Intenational.

AOS-Belgium: Is composed of a majority of lay people, hencein “their daily pastoral practice consists more of diaconal work than specifically sacramental ministry.”

AOS-Poland: There was a strong polish delegation. The Nat. Director has reiterated his intention to cooperate fully for the organisation of the World Congress next year in Gdynia.

AOS-Ireland: The apostolate remains at the same level, the only officially active chaplaincy being Dublin.

5. New ILO Convention 2006, by Com. York: The new maritime convention is a sign of hope. It is the 4th pillar of quality shipping together with Solas, STCW and Marpol, which are all mandatory instruments. This new convention is dedicated entirely to seafarers' welfare. This convention will have enormous repercussions for the ports and governments, since when it will be ratified by countries representing 30% of world tonnage it will become an international law, even countries which have not ratified it will be bound by it and there will be no more hiding places for bad shipping. 

6. Onboard Christian communities by Fr Luca Centurioni: As the onboard community is not a stable one, it has constantly to be convoked. This is done by the chaplain, but if there is none onboard then a leader must be found. The community then is both the object and subject of the 3 functions of: sanctifying, teaching and leading (priestly, prophetic and kingly functions).

7. The AOS International Website was presented to the conference. They all expressed their satisfaction and hopes for the future. Mgr J. Harel, on behalf of Archbishop Marchetto, had a meeting with AOS-Great Britain to clarify some matters concerning the website. 

8. Workshops

-  AOS has a good public image and is trusted by seafarers;

-  every single member of the port chaplaincy is important, they are all irreplaceable and bear witness in their own way;

-  Sharing is important. So is a clear identity and visibility;

-  Finding onboard leaders is a priority;

-  Training and support essential to build a strong and motivated AOS;

-  Ecumenism is a corner stone of our Organization.  



-  The theme has allowed good discussions and sharing, we must learn from this experience in view of the World Congress. The delegates were of opinion that the Congress speakers should address concretely the pastoral problems and must already have some link with the maritime apostolate.

-  Many have confided their anxiety that the personnel and volunteers of AOS are getting old and replacement poses a problem.

-  There are many lay people in AOS, they must be properly recognised and supported.

-  The papal audience has done a lot to comfort and encourage AOS-Europe. 


Rev. Mgr. Jacques HAREL


*Rocca di Papa, (Rome), Italy, 17-21 September 2006