The people of the sea
The Sea is no one's property; this gift of God was granted to humankind before there were nations or Christians, Muslims and Buddhists. Since then many nations have drawn lines of Economic Exclusive Zones (EEZ) extending into the sea, but the seas still remain the patrimony of all humankind.
Spread out but united
The People of the Sea are professionals. Whatever their nationality or religion, they share a common culture and human values. In fact the maritime world is formed out of the dispersion of these people around the globe and their continuous movement as they sail the Seven Seas, though they are often invisible to society at large. Reality finds them living and working in an environment that is often hostile, keeping them far from home and family as they endure lonely hours on the restless sea.
From itinerants to migrants
In the last decades of the XXth century the maritime world has greatly changed. Where seafarers were itinerant people before, now they have become migrants. For example, an Indian on a ship flying the Indian flag is on Indian territory wherever he goes and is under the laws of India. But when that Indian sails on a ship flying the flag of Japan, he is on Japanese territory and must submit to the civil and social laws of Japan... Today, each time a seafarer boards a ship, he may have to change country and laws. On each ship he will meet companions whose language, culture and religion differ from his own. Problems of domestic unemployment and the urgent need to provide for one's family have resulted in a great number of seafarers now accepting very long contracts under difficult working and living conditions, as well as other risks connected to sailing on a ship not registered in one's own country.
The people of the sea have the need and right to feel part of humanity and of the Church.
Apostolatus Maris is an international network of Catholic associations and organizations founded in 1922. It provides for the pastoral care and support needed by Catholics in order to live and witness the Christian faith in the maritime world. It has members in 98 countries. In Apostolatus Maris seafaring and land-based people share a common objective: to address the spiritual, social and material well-being of seafarers on merchant and fishing vessels. The organization does the same for maritime families, not distinguishing between culture, nationality or religion.
Local or national associations of Apostolatus Maris are known by various names: Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) in anglophone countries; Apostolat de la Mer in most francophone countries (except in France, where it is called Mission de la Mer); Apostolado del Mar in Spanish countries; Apostolato del Mare in Italy; Utume wa Bahari in Swahili, etc. The centres or clubs for welcoming seafarers operated by Apostolatus Maris around the world are known as "Stella Maris Centres."
In the Apostolic Letter that updates the norms of Apostolatus Maris, John Paul II states: "Stella Maris" (Star of the Sea) has long been the favourite title by which people of the sea have called on her in whose protection they have always trusted: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her son, Jesus Christ, accompanied his disciples in their vessels (see Mt 8, 23-27; Mc 4, 35-41; Lc 8, 22-25), helped them in their work and calmed the storms (see Mt 14, 22-33; Mc 6, 47-52; Gv 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" (31.1.1997).
The people of the sea trust that Jesus knows what they most need as they enter the third millennium. Facing the storms of life, they know that Jesus remains at the helm, steering them safely to Port where their loving Father awaits them.