SMA – CHRISTMAS MISSION TO SEAFARERS
Fr Fergus Tuohy SMA, worked in Nigeria for 30 years. He currently works at the SMA mother house in Cork, looking after the needs of SMA sponsors. For the past four years, however, he volunteers during the Christmas and Easter Seasons as a chaplain with the Apostleship of the Sea. This Christmas, while many will be on dry land, enjoying the Christmas Season with family, friends and confreres, Fr. Fergus will be at sea, ministering to the needs of the crews who ensure that ships move from port to port efficiently and safely, and who take care of great cargos and passengers.
Below is a short account of his experience as a cruise chaplain. As Christmas approaches, let us remember Fr Fergus in our prayers, and all of the people at sea with whom he will share the Good News of Emmanuel – God With Us!
“The Apostleship of the Sea serves seafarers from across the world, regardless of belief, nationality or race”
Mission Statement of the Apostleship of the Sea
I first heard about the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) in 2014. I was aware of Port Chaplains but I did not know about the work of the AOS. The Apostleship of the Sea provides cruise companies with a spiritual and pastoral service for both passengers and crew. The main emphasis is on the welfare of the crew who work long and demanding hours and can go for months at a time without the opportunity to receive the sacraments.
As an SMA Missionary who has worked for 30 years in Nigeria, West Africa, I hadn’t considered the idea of serving as a Chaplain on the sea. Having spent most of my time in Africa working in pastoral work and education, I was looking forward to the challenge of working at home in Ireland, caring for the needs of our SMA Sponsors. Some SMA priests had worked as Chaplains on Cruise ships and they encouraged me to explore the possibility. I contacted the AOS in London and received a favourable response.
I went on my first Christmas chaplaincy in 2014. Not being home for Christmas is always challenging. For
me it was a choice, but for seafarers, depending on work, they don’t have that luxury.
My first assignment was to Barbados and the Caribbean islands. It was a wonderful experience but most of all I realised I could play a valuable role in the mission to seafarers.
The last person you might expect to see on a cruise ship when you walk into a restaurant or bar is a priest. As more and more people take cruises the industry is booming. While the passengers enjoy a luxurious time on board the crew often work long hours and for little pay. Sometimes it can be months before they get a chance to go home, let alone go to mass or the sacraments. At the present time the Apostleship of the Sea has a team of about 40 chaplains who are mainly deployed at Christmas and Easter.
The Cruise Chaplain give spiritual and moral support, hearing confessions, celebrating Mass and offering prayers and blessings to both Crew and Passengers, but always with special emphasis on the crew.
The Cruise Chaplains also provide a link to the Port Chaplains who are available to help when the need arises.
Having a Chaplain on board can be of great benefit to the crew and passengers. Large ships can have over 3000 passengers and as many as 1000 crew.
As crew members are away from their families for months at a time, they miss birthdays, anniversaries and even the birth of their children. The chaplain can help the crew to celebrate these special occasions on board ship.
I wondered whether the work of Cruise Chaplain was compatible to my missionary life and the SMA charism. As a Missionary Priest and especially as an SMA priest I looked at the resolutions of our Founder, Bishop Melchior de Marion Bresillac, before he left to work in India.
“ To be a missionary with all my heart”
“To neglect nothing for the advancement of God’s work”
“To seize every opportunity for preaching God’s word”.
This Christmas I hope to go on my fourth cruise as a Chaplain. I have learnt so much from meeting the crew and passengers on the cruise ships. Whether in the galleys, restaurants, bars, laundry, medical centre, on the deck or theatre, the Chaplain is available to stop and talk to crew and passengers sometimes over a coffee or lunch.
Masses for the passengers take place in the mornings at sea and in the evenings at port. Crew masses take place around 11.30pm when a lot of the crew have finished their shifts.
Last Easter, while travelling on the P&O ship VENTURA, I discovered the crew and passengers loved the opportunity to sing at the Easter vigil and Easter Sunday masses.
In addition to being available to passengers and crew, being a Chaplain on a cruise ship also involves
preparing for daily masses and celebrations. This includes finding a suitable location for mass and confessions, and also readers and impromptu choirs. Sometimes you are not sure of the location for mass and confessions and readers and choirs must be organised on a daily basis.
The most important duty of a Chaplain is to be visible to the passengers and crew. It can be challenging given that there are people on board from different countries and cultures. The Chaplain must deal with everyone, from officers to general crew members, including the entertainment crew, as well as the passengers.
Being a Cruise Chaplain has been and is a great challenge for me. I feel that I am carrying out my missionary work and bringing the GOOD NEWS to those on board ship. The importance of Faith amongst many of the crew has renewed my faith. I have had many discussions with Catholics and non-Catholics. I have prayed with and met sick people in the Medical Centre. I have comforted a man whose wife had died on board ship and I have sat on the deck talking to both passengers and crew on many occasions.
Being a Cruise Chaplain has opened up new horizons for me and I believe my life as a missionary has been enhanced. I wish to thank sincerely The APOSTLESHIP OF THE SEA and I pray for them as they continue their work of ministering to seafarers all over the world.
For further information on the Apostleship of the Sea, please click here:
Fr. FERGUS TUOHY SMA.