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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



Vatican Radio interviews

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

ON THE XXII World Congress

of the Apostleship of the Sea* 


On June 24th, the XXII World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea will begin in Gdynia, Poland.  We have Archbishop Agostino Marchetto with us, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, which is organizing this important event. 

Q: Your Excellency, could you present the Apostleship of the Sea in a few words and figures?

A: The Apostleship of the Ship is a Work of the Church, an organization of apostolate with more than 110 seafarers’ centers around the world and teams of chaplains in almost all the major ports.  For the merchant marine alone, we estimate that there are more than 1.2 million seafarers, most of whom are Catholics from the less developed countries. With regard to fishing, the number of people working in this sector is estimated at 41 million. We should also remember that 90% of world trade is carried out by sea. This is an enormous sector and one of the most dangerous professions: a day does not go by that we do not witness catastrophes and the loss of human lives. We must not forget the cruise sector too, which is rapidly developing, with ships that have as many as 3,500 passengers and 1,500 crew members. Pleasure and competitive boating is expanding greatly. For France alone, a million recreational boats are to be counted. 

Q: Why hold a Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea?

A:  The maritime sector of our Pontifical Council provides the coordination and international animation of the AM.  We are aided in this Work by eight Regional Coordinators who cover all the continents and oceans of the world.  Ensuring the cohesion of the movement is a challenge, and so it is very important for all the men and women involved in this apostolate to meet at regular intervals to assess the situation, reflect on their apostolic commitment, and define a common view for the future. The Congress is the result of a long preparation and it has been preceded by many national and regional-level meetings. These Congresses normally take place every five years: the last one was held in Rio de Janeiro in 2002, and so this one will take place in Gdynia, Poland, next June 24-29.  It is an important Congress and we expect more than 270 delegates from all over the world, including about thirty Bishops who are generally the AM Promoters in their countries. 

Q: What is the theme of the Congress?

A: The theme is In Solidarity with the People of the Sea, Witnesses to Hope through the Word, the Liturgy and Diakonia.  So it is an eminently pastoral theme, which will provide an opportunity to study our vocation in depth and our pastoral commitment in favor of the people of the sea. The word “pastoral” should also be taken in its broadest sense, because we would not like to exclude from our reflection anything that may be a part of the life of the men and women workers of the sea.  We hope that the Congress will be an occasion for the AM to reflect and become aware of what constitutes its spirituality and what is specific in our Catholic service to the maritime world.

During the Congress, we will also review our pastoral commitment and see if we continue to respond faithfully to the needs of this sector that is entrusted to us, and to take note of the new situations and challenges that are appearing at the horizon. 

Q: What are these new challenges?

A: Just to mention a few, from a “human” perspective, I will begin by telling you that the International Labor Organization (ILO) has recently approved a very important Convention on the work of the people of the sea (MLC 2006).  The priority for their welfare is that this Convention be approved by the greatest number of countries possible and put into practice.

Apart from that, in these days the situation of thousands of immigrants from Africa and elsewhere, who are making headlines in the media, raises some very grave questions for us.  It is estimated that more than 8,000 of these new “boat people” have lost their lives since 1988, only in the Mediterranean, while attempting to make this very hazardous crossing.  We cannot be indifferent to their fate and we need to get mobilized to raise the awareness of all people concerned and the authorities, regarding this situation so that everyone will assume his/her responsibilities and act conscientiously while taking the international rules into consideration.

We are also thinking about the concept of equitable trade that is making more and more headway in the area of international trade.  Isn’t it time to extend this also to the working conditions of the maritime profession, which constitutes an essential link in international trade?

The situation of fishing, the exhaustion of stocks, the impoverishment of the profession, and the mistreatment of fishers are some other urgent questions that appeal to our consciences.

There is also the whole health care question, and the people of the sea throughout their life are a population at risk. 

Q: Do you have a closing word for us?

A: We enter this Congress with great hope, because it is an opportunity for the AM to grow pastorally and respond better to its vocation to give witness to its hope in Jesus Christ and its solidarity with the communities of the people of the sea.  We are counting on everyone’s prayer so that we will be capable of making these words of St. Peter our own, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 P 3:15), in articulating the Proclamation of the Word, the Liturgy and Diakonia


* 14 June 2007.