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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 82, April 2000

The work of the maritime apostolate according to John Paul II

Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao 
President of the Pontifical Council 


I would like to start by thanking again His Grace Archbishop Ivan Dias for his hospitality and H.E. Mgr Leon Tharmaraj for having convened this Round Table on Apostolatus Maris in India.

And I welcome all of you who have come to this Round Table. I am confident that it is going to help everybody to understand better and, hopefully, address better, the pastoral needs of the maritime people of India and of those visiting Indian ports. Let us start by anchoring our reflection into solid ground, I mean the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Stella Maris given to the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

In the first part of this talk I would like to answer the questions 'why' and 'what for' is there need of a well organized maritime apostolate: the introduction and the articles I and II of the Apostolic Letter will give us the answer. In the second part, I will talk of the organisation of Apostolatus Maris: here I shall limit myself however to the national and the international levels: I shall comment on Articles IX, X and XI of the same letter concerning the role of Episcopal Conferences, Bishops Promoters and National Directors of the Apostleship of the Sea. I will conclude with Art XIII on the role of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

1. A work of the church 

Quite a number of people around the world, not only Catholics, not only Christians, are committed to work for the material, social and spiritual welfare of seafarers - as it was also the aim of the founders of Apostleship of the Sea. If the material and social are what people talk about most, it should never make us forget the spiritual wellbeing of maritime people, and here there should be no misunderstanding: the Work of the Apostleship of the Sea is NOT what is usually called a “welfare organisation”. Our commitment has much deeper roots and a higher ambition.

1.1.The first reason for us to give Apostolatus Maris the place it deserves in the pastoral reflection of the Church in India and in its pastoral plan of action, is beautifully expressed by the Holy Father himself in the introduction of his Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Stella Maris: after referring to the devotion of seafarers to Our Lady, under the title of Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, this is what the Pope says: “Her son, Jesus Christ, accompanied his disciples in their vessels(cf Mt 8,23-27; Mk 4,35-41; Lk 8, 22-25), helped them in their work and calmed the storms (cf. Mt 14,22-33; Mc 6,47-52; Jn 6, 16-21). And so the Church accompanies seafarers, caring for the special spiritual needs of those who for various reasons live and work in the maritime world”. The Pope could also have added that Jesus went fishing with them - and brought them luck! The Church is called to do as Christ did. The Church in India has a responsibility, pastoral or missionary, towards maritime people, and maritime people in their turn, at the example of the Fishers on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, have much to contribute to the Church in India: I mean not only the nationals but also the tens of thousands visiting seafarers. 

No wonder then that, in his Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Stella Maris, the Pope gives the first place to the PEOPLE OF THE SEA, the POPULUS MARIS, as he calls them for the first time. It shows how seriously the Holy Father takes “the requirements of special pastoral assistance for people involved in commercial shipping and in fishing - as well as their families, port personnel and all who travel by sea”. The solemn conclusion of the Letter gives us one more reason to take seriously this maritime apostolate about which the Pope legislates in the Motu Proprio.

These exigencies were already recognised by the Universal Church and they are mentioned by the II° Vatican Council in the Decree Christus Dominus on the pastoral office of Bishops. In n. 18 we read: “Special concern should be shown for those members of the faithful who, on account of their way of life, are not adequately catered for by the ordinary pastoral ministry of the parochial clergy, or are entirely deprived of it. These include the many migrants, exiles and refuges, maritime people and civil aviation personnel, nomads and others... Suitable pastoral methods should be developed:... Conferences of Bishops, and especially national conferences, should give careful consideration to the more important questions relating to these categories... In doing this they should determine by common agreement and common effort, suitable means and directives, to cater for their spiritual needs. In doing this they should give due consideration to the norms determined, or to be determined by the Holy See, adapting them to times, places and people”.

1.2.The predecessors of Pope John Paul have known it for a long time, and they have often said so explicitly: the hard living and working conditions of this category of the People of God make the seafarers and their families often invisible to a great number of parochial communities. They should not be also invisible to the eyes of the lay or clerical leadership of the Church around the world. For a long time also the Popes have said that, for them, for the Church, the people of the sea were not to be considered simply as consumers of pastoral services but that, called to be apostles of their milieu, they needed the support of an organisation like Apostolatus Maris as wide as to cover the whole of the maritime world. 

1.3.After having recalled some reasons why the Apostleship of the Sea should exist in every maritime country, I would like to add why that Apostolate should be organised and structured from the local to the international levels. I think the answer is in the first two 2 articles of the Letter: we find there first the definition of the Work of the Apostleship of the Sea and secondly we find a listing of the responsibilities of Chaplains and ‘Authorities’ of Apostolatus Maris..

Let us start with the definition given in Art. I of the Letter: “The Work of the Maritime Apostolate is the organisation which provides the specific pastoral care of the people of the sea, it seeks to support the action of the faithful who are called to witness to their Christian life in this sphere." This organisation is Apostolatus Maris, a network of Chaplaincies and local Associations which have been ministering to maritime people around the world, and done so for something like 80 years. “Although, says the Apostolic Letter, it does not constitute an autonomous canonical entity with its own juridical personality” at the level of the Universal Church, it does very often enjoy, at local or national level, a juridical status (under one form or another), according to canon law or to civil law, or to both.

After listing the various categories of maritime people who should be reached by the maritime apostate, art 2§2 says this as regards the responsibility of the Chaplains and the authorities of the Apostleship of the Sea: [they] “will strive to see that the people of the sea are provided abundantly with whatever is required to lead holy lives; they will also recognise and promote the mission which all the faithful - and in particular the laity - are called to exercise in the Church and in the Maritime World". (art II §2)

Now if we compare the definition of Apostolatus Maris with what is said of the tasks of its chaplains and authorities, see art II §2, there is an obvious parallelism between the two texts. We are first told that the Apostleship of the Sea, the institution responsible for this Maritime Apostolate, has to “provide the specific pastoral care of the people of the sea, and we are told immediately afterwards, that through its chaplains and authorities, it must insure “that the people of the sea are provided abundantly with whatever is required to lead holy lives". 

If we consider that “supporting the work of the faithful who are called to witness to their Christian life in this sphere" is the second facet of the maritime apostolate, we see also that the second duty of its Chaplains and authorities, is to “recognise and promote the mission which all the faithful - and in particular the laity - are called to exercise in the Church and in the maritime world in accordance with their specific state". 

A great number of people are involved. The global dimension of everything maritime is evident. The mission of providing the People of the Sea with the spiritual and practical means of leading a 'holy life', a full life, like their land-based brothers and sisters, is an integral part of the Mission of the Church. These are as many more reasons, which make it necessary for those who want to commit themselves to this great task, to have the support of an organisation, well structured and articulated. This is true for every country, but even more in such a country as vast as India, with the size of a Continent. 

2. A work coordinated and organised

I cannot speak of all the levels of organisation in the Apostleship of the Sea, starting with the pastoral plan of a Parish or a Diocese. I would like to speak of the respective role of the Episcopal Conference, of the Bishop Promoter and of the National Director, both appointees of the Episcopal Conference. Their function and duties are well detailed in the Letter. Then I will add something about the service and support which you can expect from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. According to the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, and the Motu Proprio Stella maris, the Pontifical Council is responsible for the overall direction of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate. Its principal duties are detailed in article XIII of the Motu Proprio. 

2.1. The AOS at the national level

2.1.1.The role of the Episcopal Conference:

I will say that, in each country, the national direction of the Apostleship of the Sea is entrusted to a team, a "tandem", the Bishop Promoter (called 'Moderator' in the Latin text) and the National Director (whom we could also call ‘National Chaplain’). 

According to art IX of the Motu proprio,

  • the Bishop Promoter is elected by the Episcopal Conference of the country. 
  • the National Director is chosen by the Bishop Promoter from among the AM Chaplains in the country, presented to the Episcopal Conference which appoints him. 
  • the mandate of both is fixed by the Conference for a certain period, usually three years - renewable, 
  • their appointment and terms of mandate are to be communicated to the Pontifical Council.

This 'norm' regarding the appointment of a Bishop Promoter and of a National Director of the Apostleship of the Sea in all maritime countries is not new (it was already in the Leges of Apostolatus Maris of 1957). Whatever the size of country, but it is evident in a country the size of India, there is the necessity of organising and co-ordinating the maritime apostolate at the national level. Somebody has to guide that co-ordination. Let us see first what the Letter Stella Maris says about that:

  1. there should be in each Episcopal Conference of a country with maritime territory a Bishop Promoter whose responsibility it is to foster the Work of the Maritime Apostolate. [art IX §1] 
  2. The Bishop Promoter will choose a suitable priest and present his name to the Episcopal Conference which will then appoint him, in writing and for a determined period of time, as National Director of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate. (art IX §2). 

In India, all three Episcopal Conferences, according to the Syro-Malabar, to the Malankara or to the Latin rites, united in the CBCI, cover maritime Dioceses. Some diocesan areas are even common to several ritual Churches. It seems to me therefore that this particular situation, inherited from the long history of the Church in this Sub-Continent, calls for an original solution. This solution is yours to find! 

If you permit me, this is what I would suggest for a good promotion and co-ordination of the maritime apostolate in India. Let each of the three Episcopal Conferences, Malabarese, Malankarese and Latin, have each one a Bishop and a Chaplain responsible for the maritime apostolate according to their rite, or in their own area. The CBCI could afterwards select and appoint one of those Bishops as the all-India Bishop Promoter. The Bishop Promoter at the CBCI could, in his turn, choose one of the three ‘ritual’ chaplains, to be the National Director. 

I think that it would be of great help for the Chaplain chosen as the National Director of the Apostleship of the Sea in India, so that he may fulfil the mandate given him according to the Apostolic Letter. The explicit and concrete support of all the Churches in the Country is absolutely necessary for him in the implementation of his task. We may discuss this afterwards. 

Let us return to what the Pope tells us of the task he assigns to the Bishop Promoter.

2.1.2.The first task of the Bishop Promoter will be to choose a suitable priest and present him to the Episcopal Conference, which will then appoint him...(art IX '2). But the Letter goes on to give quite a list of duties to the Bishop Promoter:

  • to give directives to the National Director, to give him suggestions and advice as appropriate
  • to request... a Report on pastoral activities for maritime personnel
  • to transmit the Report to the Episcopal Conference, together with his own comments; and to encourage interest in this Apostate among his fellow bishops;
  • to maintain contact with the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People regarding all that concerns the Maritime Apostolate, and to transmit to the National Director communications he has received; 
  • to present an annual Report on the situation of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate in his territory to the above mentioned Pontifical Council.

There is not much to comment on here, except to remember the mention of a 'report' which we shall find again when speaking of the National Director and of the Pontifical Council. 

2.1.3.The National Director of the AM will normally been chosen by the Bishop Promoter from among the chaplains in active or the former chaplains in the country. But the appointment of the National Director is done by the Episcopal Conference. This appointment expresses the official mandate of the Episcopal Conference, and guarantees its support to the National Director in his task of promoting and co-ordinating the apostolate in all ports and maritime dioceses in the country. 

We could describe the role of the National Director as that of being 'the hub' of communication and articulation of the AOS in the country… and beyond. Here are his main tasks, according to the Letter:

a) in relation with the Bishops of maritime dioceses in the country:

  • to maintain relations with the bishops of the country in all matters affecting the spiritual good of maritime people;

b) in relation with the Bishop Promoter

  • to present to the Bishop Promoter, at least once a year, a Report on the 'status animarum' and on pastoral work for the maritime people of his country

c) in relation with the Chaplains:

  • to promote specific training programmes for chaplains; to direct chaplains of the Work of Maritime Apostolate without prejudice to the rights of the local Ordinary; to make sure that chaplains diligently fulfil their duties and observe the prescriptions of the Holy See and the local Ordinary; to arrange, with the consent of the Bishop Promoter and according to the circumstances of the time, meetings and spiritual exercises for all the chaplains in the country or for chaplains and other faithful who are involved in the Work of the Maritime Apostolate;

d) in relation with the programme of Apostolatus Maris:

  • to be particularly concerned to encourage and develop the Apostolate of the laity, fostering their active participation while bearing in mind the diversity of their talents; 
  • to establish relations with the AOS in neighbouring countries, and to represent his own country at regional or continental level
  • to maintain regular contact with the Regional Co-ordinator of Apostolatus Maris.

e) in relation with other organisations

  • to establish and maintain regular contact with institutions and aid organisations - both Catholic and non-Catholic - and with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which pursue goals akin to those of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate'. 

2.1.4.Here again, there is not much commentary to add. I will only come back to the report which the National Director should prepare and present to the Bishop Promoter. The Letter specifies that in this report, the National Director should explain both “the activities which went well, and those which were, perhaps, less successful, as well as any corrective action taken to avoid losses and, finally, whatever seems useful for the spread of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate”. (Art XI §2)This report is not just part of a formal procedure. It is the best instrument at the disposal of the National Director for implementing all his other tasks. These cannot be properly planned or executed, if a serious evaluation of the actual situation has not been done. Then, he should not keep it for himself or just send it immediately to the Pontifical Council as some do. By doing so they loose the best tool at their disposal for obtaining the support they need most, that of the Episcopal Conference. 

The Motu Proprio does not only state the necessity of making of such a report. It practically says how to use it. The National Director prepares it, discusses it with the Bishop Promoter, and then the Bishop Promoter “transmits the report to the Episcopal Conference together with its own comments”. This report is also the best tool of the Bishop promoter to fulfil his duty “to encourage interest in this apostolate among his fellow bishops” (art X,3). This is the best way to insure that the maritime apostolate is put on the agenda of the Episcopal Conference, and that it is included at its rightful place in the pastoral plan of the Church in all the maritime Dioceses of the Country.

2.1.5.Now, do you remember the text of the Decree of Vatican II which I quoted at the beginning? “Conferences of Bishops should give careful consideration to the more important questions... and determine by common agreement and common effort, suitable means and directives to cater for their spiritual needs...” The Council Fathers, themselves Bishops, recognise that it is impossible to implement directives without means, in personnel, of course but also in money. To be concrete, I think that the maritime apostolate should appear somewhere in the budget of all Episcopal Conferences of maritime countries.

2.2.The AOS at the international level

2.2.1The AOS Regions 

The Region is not a new structure. What is new is that the Apostolic Letter Stella maris created the function of Co-ordinator, and that it gives the Pontifical Council the authority to appoint him, in order to facilitate the overall direction of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate entrusted to the Council. You find it mentioned in Article XIII among the principal tasks of the Pontifical Council: “to appoint a Co-ordinator for a Region encompassing several Episcopal Conferences, at the suggestion of the Bishops Promoters concerned, and to specify the function of such a Co-ordinator.” (XIII, 1, 5).

We count now eight Regions in the world: two for the Americas, two for Africa (Atlantic and Indian Ocean), one in Europe, one in Australia/Oceania. We have again two in Asia: one for East/South East Asia and one for South Asia, your Region, which comprises India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

Three types of meetings can be organised at Regional level: a Regional meeting of National Directors, a Regional meeting of Bishops Promoters and National Directors, and the AOS Regional Conference. A Regional Conference is usually convened in order to prepare the World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea. In a Regional Conference, the whole membership of the AOS is represented: bishops, chaplains, seafarers & families, port personnel, volunteers, guests. 

The Regional Co-ordinator

The norms concerning the appointment and the function of regional co-ordinators who are the collaborators of the Pontifical Council for the Direction of AM in the world, are one of the innovations of the Apostolic Letter Stella Maris

Following a large consultation and serious discussion at the meeting of Regional Co-ordinators last year in Rome, a consensus appeared about the choice of a clear procedure for the appointment of Regional Co-ordinators: 

  1. at the time of the AM World Congress, during a meeting where all those who came from that Region are present, 

aa) the name of suitable candidates are proposed for nomination
ab) the Bishop Promoters of the Region proceed to the election. (the National Directors may vote on their behalf). 

  1. after consultation with the Bishops or the Religious Superiors of the Nominees, the Pontifical Council makes the appointment.
  2. the Episcopal Conferences in the Region are officially informed of the appointment. 

In his function to assist the Pontifical Council and the AOS National Associations within his Region, the Regional Co-ordinator will of course respect the autonomy of the Episcopal Conferences, of the Diocesan Bishops and of the National AOS Organisations. His objectives are to promote the AOS in his Region and to implement the norms of the Maritime Apostolate laid down by the Holy Father in the Apostolic Letter Stella Maris, and until the year 2002, that of the resolutions of the XXth AOS Congress of Davao (1997).

2.2.2. The AOS at the World level

I have already referred to the Meeting of Regional Co-ordinators which took place in Rome last February. Such meetings are now an annual event. We just finished here yesterday that of the year 2000. It is for good reason that those meetings can be called a kind of “Senate of Apostolats Maris”. 

The main tasks of the Pontifical Council, to whom the Holy Father entrusted the high direction of the Apostleship of the Sea, are listed in Art XIII at the end of the Apostolic Letter.

But before coming to the role of the Pontifical Council in the high direction of Apostolatus Maris, the Apostolic Letter reminds us, in art. XII, of who is really responsible for the maritime apostolate on the waterfront: it is the Diocesan Bishop. The whole national and international structure of Apostolatus Maris are not there to tell Bishops what they should do. Those structures are there to support the initiative of the local Bishop. I have already quoted Vatican II, saying how they should show “special concern for those members of the faithful who, on account of their way of life, are not adequately catered for by the ordinary pastoral ministry…”. 

The Apostolic Letter therefore, tells Diocesan Bishops, that it is their “right and duty to show zealous concern for and to offer pastoral assistance to all maritime personnel who reside, even for a short time, within [their] jurisdiction”. It is the Diocesan Bishop’s responsibility “to determine the most suitable forms of pastoral care for maritime personnel, and to appoint a chaplain with the necessary mandate”. The ‘agreement of the National Director’, which is required here, is evidently to be understood only as a help, and the basis of future collaboration and support. (Art XII) 

It is therefore evident that we have come a long way since the days when Chaplains of the Apostleship of the Sea were appointed by the General Secretariat of the Apostolatus Maris Internationale Concilium (AMIC)... 

The role of the Pontifical Council remains to publish instructions and guidelines on the maritime apostolate. It should offer assistance to all who are involved in this apostolic work. This is done by contacts with the National Episcopal Conference, the National Directors and the Regional Co-ordinators. It is also done through the organisation of various Regional meetings prepared in collaboration with the Regional Co-ordinators.

We publish, four times a year, the Bulletin ‘Apostolatus Maris, in four languages (English, French, Spanish and Italian) You can still receive it through ordinary mail. But it is now also on Internet. You can download it and print everything or just a single article. 

I have already mentioned the World Congress. The Pontifical Council organises one every five years. It is a great event for all the People of the Sea. It is a source of great encouragement for the whole world-wide membership of the Apostleship of the Sea. The first world congress of the maritime apostolate was held in France in 1927, and the XXth was held in Davao, the Philippines, in 1997. The preparation for the next one, which will take place in 2002, probably somewhere in South America, has already began with the search for a suitable theme and venue. 


It is time for me to conclude. 

The concrete reality of the maritime world is made of the very dispersion of maritime people around the globe, of their continuous movement sailing the seven seas, of their working and living in a naturally hostile environment, of the necessity to leave their families behind.

And their world itself is changing: seafarers used to be sailing ships flying the flag of their own country, under the law of their country. They were then itinerant people. Now most of them have become migrant people. When they are on a ship flying the Indian flag, they are on Indian territory, under the laws of India. But when an Indian sails on a ship flying the flag of Japan, he is now on Japanese territory, under the laws of Japan... A seafarer may have to change country at every voyage… many may have to accept the hard consequences of sailing under a flag of convenience. 

In spite or because of their diversity, the People of the Sea share much in common, in terms of culture and human values. They share also the same need, as people of the sea and as Christians: to feel part of humanity, part of the Church. To address this need is exactly the role of the Apostleship of the Sea.