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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 102, December 2006




AOS European Regional Conference*



Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and Itinerant People




Your Excellencies

Dear National Directors, Chaplains and Ship visitors,

Dear Participants, 

It is my great pleasure to welcomeyou all to Rome, the See of the Pope, Successor of Peter the Fisherman. Since my appointment as President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral care of Migrants and Itinerants, it is the first occasion that I have to address an assembly of the Apostleship of the Sea and I am glad of the opportunity to do so today.

 The sea is no stranger to me, as I told members of the Pontifical Council at our first meeting, I grew up in Salerno, on the Mediterranean Sea, which is the home to a lively and active fishing community. My experience of people of the sea is that they are generous by nature. Their work is really arduous, but this is compensated by a great comradeship, solidarity and generosity.

 I congratulate Fr Pracz, the Regional Coordinator and the group of National Directors, who have succeeded in organizing this meeting. I understand that the choice of Rome for the venue, was motivated by your desire to meet our new Pope Benedict XVI and to manifest to him your filial devotion. I hope that the general audience on Wednesday and the visit to St Peter’s will be for you all a memorable experience that you will bring back with you to your ports and communities. The Holy Father is aware of the situation of the pastoral care for human mobility he has repeatedly encouraged us to sustain itinerant people in their difficulties. On the 15th May 2006, to the participants in the Plenary Assembly of our Pontifical Council he thanked and encouraged us in these terms: “I willingly welcome this occasion to thank you for what you do in favour of an organic and efficient pastoral service for migrants and itinerant people, putting your time, your competency and your experience at this service. May it escape no one that this is a significant frontier in the new evangelization in the current globalized world.I encourage you to pursue your work with renewed zeal”.

You are here for the AOS Regional Conference for Europe.Regional meetings are an essential part of our organisation, as we want all our chaplains, ship visitors and volunteers to shape together a common vision, respecting the legitimate differences, to learn to cooperate and work together as a team and as a network. Your region is vast, it goes from the Atlantic to the Urals, it comprises the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the North Sea and the Baltic (to name but a few). Chaplains, pastoral agents, ship visitors and volunteers can be isolated from each other, meetings and conferences provide a unique, and sometimes rare, occasion for them to discuss together their pastoral engagement and concerns. Consequently the regional structure, coordinated by a Regional Coordinator, is of the utmost importance for the development and sustaining of the AOS and deserves all your support. During this meeting, I recommend that you take the time to get to know each other, taking advantage of every opportunity toshare, to listen with empathy to each other’s difficulties, experiences and projects In this era of globalization we cannot work in isolation but we must work as a network, there is no other alternative if we want our ministry and our witnessing to be relevant and effective.

All AOS Regions have many things in common, especially the commitment to serve the People of the Sea; but perhaps those regions where there are a majority of OECD countries, are more privileged from certain points of view. A case in point is of course your Region, which includes many of the richest countries with vibrant economies and among the largest ports in the world and a long tradition of service and pastoral care. We remember, as well, that the first branch of the Apostleship of the Sea was launched in Glasgow more than 107 years ago. I am glad to be able to say that Europe has remained faithful to that great tradition and that today the European coast is dotted with seafarers centres, which are beacons and safe havens to all seafarers who come to your ports, thanks to the commitment of the chaplains, pastoral workers, volunteers and benefactors. Even recently, your region has initiated, with other regions, many worthwhile and important projects as cruise ships ministry, new training courses and reflections on AOS spirituality. In the ecumenical field you have opened new roads and showed the way in many aspects. AOS International is also indebted to you for your support and active presence in an ecumenical dimension at the ILO, IMO and ITF. Worthy of note are also the many overtures that you have had towards the Eastern European countries (namely Russia and the Ukraine) that are slowly emerging and are struggling to catch up with their more favoured neighbours. I know that you are conscious of this and that many of you have been active and have invested much resources and efforts, with the help of our ICMA colleagues, to re-establish the maritime apostolate there. 

Privileges mean responsibility and an obligation to contribute to those who are less advantaged. Europe’s contribution to the rest of the world is very important and the Europeans have a responsibility towards the rest of humanity. Speaking of Europe in an interview to international media on August 5, Pope Benedict XVI said: All the bishops from different parts of the world say: We still need Europe, even if Europe is only a part of a greater whole… We [Europeans] still carry the responsibility that comes from our experiences, from the science and technology that was developed here, from our liturgical experience, traditions, the ecumenical experiences we have accumulated: All this is very important for the other continents too.”

 This does not mean that everything is perfect and that you do not have your own difficulties. I am aware that presently one of your great concerns is the situation of the fishing industry in Europe, as I wrote in the Sea Sunday Message. 

 Europe, however, is not the only region facing problems. There are also other regions, confronted with great difficulties with catastrophes (tsunami), wars, violence, epidemics, scarcity of material means, lack of communication and infrastructure. There have been many calls for solidarity and for the need to intensify our efforts in favour of these poorer or more remote areas, where there is no or little pastoral care. This year for example a delegation of Bishops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo visited our Pontifical Council and among other things, they expressed their helplessness and distress regarding the lack of any pastoral planning for the thousands of people and communities living and working and sometimes dying on the rivers and lakes in their country. In the past you have always responded generously to appeals for help; in 2005, thanks to your generous contributions, which have gone directly to the victims, AOS Chaplains and pastoral workers have been able to contribute significantly to the relief of the tsunami victims and some of the work there is still on going.

Your apostolate is neither a simple nor an easy one; maritime ministry is realised in chaplaincies in the work place, and you are faced daily with situations and issues that demand a firm commitment also to the principles of justice and fair play. Responding to these situations or helping people or communities in need, certainly does not mean establishing relations of dependence or a culture of receiving,but, on the contrary, building bridges of solidarity and compassion, never forgetting thatthe very heart of the Church’s social doctrine and of every social action is constituted by the following principles: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity, which are fundamental guidelines to us. (Cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, p. 91). 

The constant challenge, however, of providing to the many and varied practical needs of seafarers may sometimes appear to be monopolising all your time and activities. The Holy Father’s Encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” (DCE), reminds us how important it is for the Church's charitable activity to maintain its specificity and not to become just another form of social assistance among many others. We acknowledge the need and primary importance of professional competence and good organisation, but it is not of itself sufficient. In our apostolate, we are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity and heartfelt concern. The Pope goes on to say that all those who are engaged in charitable activities and services must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity….. “Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, charity workers need a ‘formation of the heart’: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others” (Cf. DCE, 31).

Last month the Holy Father has again insisted on this idea, and quoting St Bernard of Clairvaux, he emphasized that we have to guard ourselves against the dangers of excessive activity, because too many concerns can often lead to hardness of heart and suffering of the spirit. He added that people should put time aside for prayer and contemplation.

That brings us to our World Congress and the need to do our utmost so that it will be a time of reflection, prayer and sharing that will lift our spirits and renew our apostolic zeal. The aim of this Regional conference this week, is also to prepare AOS Europe’s participation to our Congress in 2007. This one will be pastoral; of course pastoral care is holistic, it ranges frommaterial help and advocacy to more spiritual or religious aspects such as sacramental ministry and Christian formation and counseling. It will be a collective and community exercise, which it is hoped will give AOS the occasion to better understand its vocation and the necessary means to exercise the proper pastoral care to the people it serves. In these times of difficulties, crises and sometimes of doubts, it will also be a time to revive the hope, which is ours, as followers of Christ and witnesses of His Good News and Grace. We shall do so by interrogating ourselves on our ongoing commitment to the threefold responsibilities which constitutes the essence of all our pastoral work:

The place of the proclamation of the Word of God in AOS;

The celebration of the sacraments as the source and “raison d’être” of our pastoral care;

The service, “diakonia”, to all but especially to the poorest.

All this, I have noted, is reflected in the program of these next three days, which is rich and varied. It should enable you to have a good conference and to plan your contribution that will help make our next World Congress a resounding success, which will carry our organization over the next five years.

 To conclude I would like to invoke our Patron, Mary the “Stella Maris”, quoting from these beautiful lines of the Holy Fathers’ address to the pilgrims at Angelus at Castel Gandolfo on the 20th August, it seems as if these words, borrowed from maritime terminology, had been written especially for the AOS:

In one of his famous discourses, St Bernard compares Mary to the Star that navigators seek so as not to lose their course: ‘Whoever you are who perceive yourself during this mortal existence to be drifting in treacherous waters at the mercy of the winds and the waves rather than walking on firm ground, turn your eyes not away from the splendour of this guiding star, unless you wish to be submerged by the storm!... Look at the star, call upon Mary.... With her for a guide, you will never go astray; ...under her protection, you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you will not grow weary; if she shows you favour you will reach the goal’ “.

I wish you all a fruitful meeting, to “reach the goal”, and a pleasant stay in the eternal City, as I now declare open this conference. 

*Opening Address, Rocca di Papa (Italia), 18th September 2006.