Celebrated by Archbishop Patrick O’Regan – who was assisted by local AOS chaplain Fr Roderick O’Brien, and Fr Brian Angus – the Mass at Our Lady of the Visitation Church, Taperoo, drew attention to the untiring work of a group of committed local volunteers who support seafarers arriving on our shores.
“The word of welcome, someone turning up just to be a friend, even for a little time, makes all the difference,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
“Often language is a barrier yet humanity is never a barrier because it is what we have in common.
“The bridge of humanity, the bridge of faith, makes all the difference… the AOS gives them a place of security, a place to call home even though it be for such a fleeting time.”
Also known as Stella Maris, the AOS is the Catholic Church’s ministry to seafarers around the world and was officially started in Glasgow, Scotland in 1920. Today it is the largest ship-visiting network, providing seafarers with practical and pastoral support, information and a ‘friend in times of need’. The service has 230 chaplains in more than 300 ports across 41 countries from Australia to the USA.
Manager of the local Stella Maris centre, Ian Keane, said COVID-19 restrictions had greatly impacted the services that could be offered in 2020.
The Taperoo centre has been closed since March as seafarers arriving on ships at Inner and Outer Harbour have not been permitted to disembark.
“While we couldn’t visit the ship, as a way of letting the seafarers know we were thinking of them we began providing Welcome Packs,” Mr Keane said.
The Australian-themed packs included a bookmark made by students at Our Lady of the Visitation School, a beanie, pen, koala key ring, block of chocolate, packet of potato chips and a Stella Maris calendar.
A total of 341 packs were distributed to crew on 17 ships and the program is set to continue in 2021, after generous donations from volunteers and several organisations were received.
Mr Keane said a further complication due to pandemic had been the inability of crew members to return to their home countries when they completed their contracts.
“As international flights are few and far between the seafarers can’t disembark as there is no way of getting them home, so some of them have been away from their families for more than 12 months,” he explained.
“We hope that by providing the Welcome Packs it shows them that we care about them and they are not alone.”
For more information about the Apostleship of the Sea go to www.aos-australia.org
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