The Holy See
back up

 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 97, April 2005


TALK ON THE OCCASION OF THE AOS International Fishing Committee Meeting*


Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO

Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the 

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Welcome to the 2nd AOS International Fishing Committee! This is an important meeting as our International Committee has yet to find its “cruising speed” and its specific identity. We hope that today’s reflection and sharing will help us better focus on the vast task ahead of us and to recommit ourselves to the cause of the fishing communities around the world, especially taking into consideration the recent disasters in Asia which affected in particular the fishermen. This will be therefore an unexpected and terrible item of our agenda.

While it is true that the AOS International Fishing Committee is an integral part of the AOS International network and maritime apostolate and that it cannot be a separate entity or independent organization, it has however its own specific objectives that have been set by the Rio World Conference and the Ad Hoc Committee. After one year’s existence we must now reflect on whether we are meeting these goals or how we can meet them better. During this meeting we must try as well to evaluate the capacity of regions and individual countries to be involved in the work of the Fishing Committee.

We are all aware that this sector of the maritime economy has been from time immemorial a major source of food and that literally tens of millions of families earn a scanty livelihood by fishing. Recently, like in all sectors of the world economy, globalization has brought about in general profound changes in the life, culture and working conditions of the fishing communities. The changes may not be all bad and there has been an increased international awareness and publicity on the lot of fishers, especially the traditional ones in the developing world, but the great majority of fishers remain the poorest of the poor, with no social recognition, status or security.

The main reason why we are involved in this work is pastoral of course; our aim is to be the presence and solicitude of the Church in their midst. Our approach being pastoral, the Ad Hoc Committee in 2003, rightly observed that we must not duplicate what is already being done by Governments, UN Agencies and NGOs, and that advancement of the technical and socio-economic issues of fishermen must be complemented by pastoral care and empowerment of the fisher folk and that we should concentrate our efforts on this latter task. The priority of AOS remains of course the improvement of the life of fishers and their families, but not by transfer and development of technology, which is not its specific role but through the education and empowerment of its local and national leaders and the development of pastoral and specifically religious programs. 

Although the AOS International Fishing Committee has still to better define its own pastoral and specific approach we cannot and do not want to work in isolation, and in our planning we must always take this into consideration. We have cooperated in the past with all initiatives that can contribute to the progress of the fishing communities, and we must continue to do so. In this connection you may remember the recommendation of the Rio World Congress in 2002, namely the “full and timely implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries” (Rio Final Document). And when we held the “feasibility meeting” in December 2003 the ILO, FAO and ICSF were invited, and we took into consideration their opinion and heeded their advice. Through ICMA as its member, AOS had a say in the elaboration of the comprehensive ILO convention covering fishing vessels. ICMA added its voice to the others and has asked that this convention should not only revise the existing conventions and recommendations but also include new elements such as occupational health, social issues and enforcement. Of the new measures a specific role has also in this  the Holy See.

Fr Bruno Ciceri, who was part of the ICMA delegation, has kindly accepted to give us later a brief report and his comments, and we thank him in advance for that.

The agenda today is fairly extensive and also enlarged – as I said – and therefore I would like to highlight only two of the items: 

Funding is the last item on the agenda but one of the more important ones. Finances for regional or international initiatives, but also at grassroots level. We know that you need finances to reach out to different communities of fishermen, as this involves travelling and other expenses. I know of a recent experience in Rodriguez Island, in the Indian Ocean, where one lay pastoral agent working fulltime for the Church has been able to start and animate a local fishermen’s association and, by doing so, help to give recognition and a sense of purpose to hundreds of families, as well as new hope and “self-esteem”. This would never have been possible without the financial help of a European Episcopal Conference. We all know that the same kind of initiatives can happen elsewhere but we lack the personnel and the material resources. In the question of funding we must also consider the opportunity and the means to show concretely to our brothers and sisters of Asia our solidarity and affection. 

Information:We do not have any systematic data regarding fishers’ communities from the regions; maybe this could be our first effort. If we can get some information we could try to formulate plans and projects. So far, however, it seems nobody has answered our circular requesting feedbacks on the latest ILO Fishing Document in preparation of the meeting of June 2005.

Our project to set up an AOS International Website will hopefully help us fill this gap because one section will be destined for fishing. Therefore we need to have a better overview of national fishing industries, existing associations or unions and evaluation of their work. We need to know more about the situation in each region and country regarding: social protection and security, existing local laws/regulations, etc. Eventually all this information will have to come from you and the National Directors through your reports, may be with the help of some volunteers. Naturally – as it was said – we will submit our proposal to the national AOS. 

In conclusion I would like to add, on a more spiritual note, that our mission is to discern “the signs of the times” and to give witness to the values of the Kingdom in the fishing com-munities. When the followers of John the Baptist came to enquire whether he was truly the expected Messiah, Jesus replied: “The blind are now able to see, the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life and the poor are hearing the good news” ( Mt 11,4-5).

The situations and the methods might be different today, but we are all sent, so that the poor may hear the good news; this is the vast mission field, which is confided to us, and it makes us feel inadequate. The Church had even more humble beginnings, and yet through the ages it has brought the Good News of Jesus to almost every corner of the world. This was done through courage, perseverance and above all an innate conviction that the disciple is not alone, that it is “God’s Mission”, and that He is with him and accompanies him always and everywhere. Today we have taken the relay, and we are called to continue this mission and with the help of God. This is what we are setting out to achieve in the fishing sector.

It will be a “crowded day”. I declare the Second Meeting of the AOS International Committee open, and I wish you all a good and fruitful day’s work. 

* (Rome, 2nd February 2005)