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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 106 (Suppl.-I), April 2008



An Introduction to the “AoS Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents”


Msgr. Jacques HAREL


Apostleship of the Sea International


1. Why a Manual for Chaplains and Pastoral Agents?

The main reason is the great demand among chaplains, ship visitors and volunteers for a manual that would help them respond to the daily challenges of their apostolate. It is intended, therefore, to listen to the numerous requests we have received, to revise and update the existing Manual, which was published in 1990.

This new Manual is a sign of hope as it wishes to provide, albeit concisely, the vision of  AOS concerning its engagement in the maritime world and an overview of the Church’s Teaching in this domain. It also intends to sustain and encourage the activity of so many Catholics engaged in this apostolate.

Often  people are surprised or do not understand the Church’s involvement in this sector. It is therefore hoped that with this Manual, as we  strive “to give  the reasons for our hope” for the maritime milieu, this will become more evident.

  1. As chaplains, pastoral agents, ship visitors and volunteers, we exercise our ministry and mission within a professional and specialised environment, which necessitates formation and special training.
  2. In addition, the shipping industry is always changing and the technology is in constant evolution. The short turnarounds, multi religious and multi cultural crews, the construction of new terminals far from the city centre, the fear of terrorism and the consequent stringent security rules and the difficulty for many to obtain shore leave, are changing drastically the nature of our apostolate. This necessarily influences the procedures, the rules and regulations of the port and, if we want to be effective and respected in our chaplaincy work, we must keep abreast, adapt and respond to these new circumstances.
  3. There are many do’s and don’ts and it is essential to know the guiding principles and the protocol in force in a port environment. This manual aims at enhancing the understanding of the maritime apostolate.
  4. It is certainly not exhaustive and, although we have tried to cover the main issues, it is intended as a sure base and reference for further training and formation. It could also be used for induction courses for volunteers and AOS new members. It is something we can propose also for ICMA courses.
  5. All the Regional Coordinators have been consulted and we have received comments and suggestions.
  6. Our Superiors gave the support of their knowledge and experience while was also asked the advice of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.


2. The principles that have inspired this handbook are to be found in the introductory letter to the Manual of H.E. Cardinal Martino and H.E. Archbishop Marchetto, of which I give you here the highlights:

- It is a practical Manual geared at offering guidance to chaplains and maritime pastoral agents and also to those who, for the first time, are given the responsibility of the pastoral care of people `who go to the sea in ships'.

- It is  based on Pope John Paul II Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Stella Maris and on the 1990 Chaplain’s Manual, and on the AOS long tradition of service to men and women of the sea, as well as on the experience of chaplains, pastoral agents, ship visitors and volunteers. It has also drawn from the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) Ship Visiting Manual, especially for the part regarding ship visiting procedures so as to ensure that all ICMA members adopt the same guidelines in this most important activity.  

- This Manual considers also the latest Conventions and regulations of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). These are the two United Nations’ agencies, concerned with the development and implementation of seafarers’ rights, working conditions and safety standards onboard ships.

3. Let us go now rapidly  through the different chapters and content of the Manual. It is divided into 8 parts.

Part I


This is a general introduction to AOS and to the  maritime apostolate.

-   The Apostleship of the Sea: some historical highlights

-   The Work of the Maritime Apostolate. What is its specificity?

-   The Challenge facing AOS. It is the most difficult and most globalised industry and this reflects on our ministry.

-   Responding to a changing maritime milieu. As we have said, it is an ever-changing context and the challenge is to keep pace with it. Seafarers are increasingly being recruited from developing countries where wages are lower. As a result, crews are becoming smaller and multinational, multicultural and multireligious.

-   Care of the universal and of the local Church

         . The universal dimension

         . The local dimension

-   A missionary engagement. Here we discuss the evangelisation and missionary dimension of our maritime apostolate

Part II


It deals with the role of each one and with  the importance of team work and of team building.

- The Priest

- The Deacon

- The Ship Visitor and the Pastoral Agent

- The Team Work

Part III


The Manual offers guidelines to Ship visitation, which is such an important part of our apostolate. Especially here we have tried to adopt and keep the same procedures as our ICMA colleagues, emphasising the fact that the port is a highly professional and challenging environment. All ship visitors must have a proper understanding of shipboard protocol and safety regulations.

- The Port Environment and Operation

- Ship Visitation

- Planning a Ship Visit

- Safety on Ship and Dock

- Various Questions of Protocol

- Ships with Special Needs

- On-board Problems and Practical Aid

- A Word of Caution for the Seafarer while in Port 


Part IV


This part is devoted to the role of the laity, volunteers and seafarers families.

- Membership of the AOS

- Promotion of On-Board Christian Community

- Christian Hospitality

- Host Families

- The Seafarer’s Family

- Students of Nautical Institutes


Part V


The Work of the Maritime Apostolate is a world wide organisation. While respecting local conditions and each one’s specificity, national, regional and international coordination is important and is achieved through:

- Sea Sunday celebration

- Annual Report

- Conferences

- Directories

- Communication

- The AOS International Website

- Funding

- Correspondence and Records 


Part VI


The maritime ministry is perhaps the most ecumenical of all  ministries and we have a long tradition of ecumenism at the AOS. To-day, however, we have more and more seafarers who belong to other religions and inter religious dialogue is a necessity.

- Ecumenical Co-operation in the Maritime Ministry

- Some Guiding Principles of Ecumenism

- Inter-religious Dialogue


Part VII


AOS has always been close to fishing communities, but there are also emerging categories of seafarers who need our pastoral care.

- Fishers and Fishing Communities

- Aquaculture

- The Port Workers

- Cruise Ships

- The Yachting Community

- Lakes and Rivers

- Preservation of the environment 



This last part is devoted to:

Patrons – Prayers – Logo  

And then we have 10 appendices which are  intended to cover other topics and also to enlarge on some of the subjects already discussed. 

APPENDIX I - Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Stella Maris on the Maritime Apostolate

APPENDIX II - Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea


APPENDIX IV - Guiding Principles for Ecumenical Cooperation

APPENDIX V - The Regional Coordinator

APPENDIX VI - AOS International Fishing Committee



APPENDIX IX - Seafarers’ Rights and Advocacy

APPENDIX X - Glossary of Seafarers’ Welfare Agencies