Baltimore’s Apostleship of the Sea Is Part of Global Church Outreach to Seafarers

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After a container ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore March 26 causing its collapse, news reports mentioned how members of Baltimore’s Apostleship of the Sea had reached out to and cared for the ship’s crew members.

Hours after the bridge collapse, Andy Middleton, the group’s director, said that he had been in touch with a member of the crew of the ship, Dali, just after the collision and found out that everyone on board was safe and uninjured.

He also told the Catholic Review, the official news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, that members of the outreach group, based at St. Rita’s Parish in Dundalk, had delivered Easter boxes to Dali’s crew members just days before the crash.

Apostleship of the Sea is not just a ministry of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, but part of a national and global outreach of the Catholic Church that provides pastoral care to those who work at sea.

The ministry, which started in Glasgow, Scotland in 1920, has been in Baltimore for 21 years. Four years ago, the international group officially changed its name to Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), but many still call it by its initial name.

Two years after the organization formed, Pope Pius XI gave it his blessing and encouraged the Apostleship of the Sea to extend its mission to the waterways and shores of all hemispheres. In every major country, an Apostleship of the Sea bishop promoter oversees the work of a national director whose responsibility it is to coordinate the chaplains’ efforts and assist them in developing their ministries.

In most major ports around the world, the diocese assigns a chaplain — a priest, deacon, religious, or lay ecclesial minister — to serve mariners aboard ship and ashore on merchant vessels, cruise ships, and docks.

The chaplains provide, or find someone to provide, Catholic Mass, and sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick, along with pastoral care. They also work to ensure a safe work environment and fair contracts and provide a welcome and safe haven while sea workers are in ports. The group also oversees chaplains on board cruise ships.

In the U.S., the Stella Maris ministry has a presence in 53 maritime ports in 48 archdioceses and dioceses in 26 states. There are over 100 chaplains and pastoral teams are made up of priests, deacons, religious, and lay ministers.

Globally, Stella Maris has more than 200 chaplains and over 700 volunteer ship visitors supporting seafarers and fishers in ports in more than 50 countries. It is the largest ship-visiting network, and its network of chaplains and volunteers makes more than 70,000 visits to ships in a normal year.

Two years ago, national directors, chaplains and volunteers of this ministry met in Glasgow to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their outreach that had been postponed by the pandemic. In a message to the group, Pope Francis thanked them for their work and urged them to continue standing up for people struggling to make a livelihood from the sea.

A key concern, he said, is how climate change is impacting people who fish for a living as well as those who staff large ships.

“Creation, our common home, is comprised of a vast expanse of water, which is essential for life and human commerce, not to mention tourism,” he said. “It should not be surprising, therefore, that around 90% of the world’s goods are transported by ships, which is made possible by the daily work of over one and a half million people, many of whom are far removed for months at a time from the support of their families as well as their social and religious communities.”