by MICHAEL OTTO
Finding new ways of being Church.
That was a challenge given to delegates at the Apostleship of the Sea Oceania regional meeting in Sydney in early March.
The challenge was issued by Fr Bruno Ciceri, from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.
Fr Ciceri related an example from his own ministry, from when he was port chaplain in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Several years ago, he went on board an Australian flagged vessel which the owners had wanted to reflag under a flag of convenience, thereby putting the Australian crew out of work.
When Fr Ciceri and an associate went onto the ship in Taiwan, they immediately unfurled a banner in the local language and hung it from the gangway.
Then a stand-off ensued, with the crew refusing to leave the ship. Fr Ciceri stayed with them, having arranged for another priest to say his usual Sunday Masses in Taiwan.
The Italian pastor admitted to being rather nervous when he saw military personnel assembling on the dock.
Eventually the situation was resolved, but Fr Ciceri suggested to the conference delegates in Sydney that maybe what he had done could be seen as one new way of being Church.
The conference also heard from Fr Noel Connolly, SSC, who reminded delegates of Pope Francis’s teaching that the first step in evangelisation is to draw close to the poor.
“The real demands of justice and of the spiritual life only become clearer in personal contact and practical involvement,” Fr Connelly noted in an item in the conference programme.
Some of the challenges in drawing close to seafarers in the modern maritime environment in this part of the world were spelled out by Apostleship of the Sea New Zealand national director Fr Jeff Drane, SM.
He noted the trends of rapidly increasing communications capabilities on ships, rapid ship turnaround in ports giving seafarers less and less time ashore, and fewer and more mechanised ships at mega ports.
All these factors meant that traditional seafaring centres as operated by the Apostleship of the Sea are in danger of becoming obsolete, he stated.
Fr Drane suggested a shift towards advocacy and facilitating seafarer independence.
At the conference, a book titled Fishers and Plunderers: Theft, Slavery and Violence at Sea was distributed.
It told of abuses in the global fishing industry, including human trafficking on land and violence and slavery at sea.
The book was co-authored by Fr Ciceri and it noted the progress New Zealand has made in ensuring better conditions for fishers in its exclusive economic zone.
According to the Transport Ministry, it will be compulsory for all foreign chartered fishing vessels to be reflagged as New Zealand ships by May 1, 2016.
These vessels flagged to New Zealand will be subject to the same legislative and regulatory
requirements and enforcement provisions as a domestically owned and flagged vessel.
New Zealand has also ratified the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, and this comes into force on March 9, 2017.
But it does not apply to fishing vessels.
At the Sydney conference, issues of concern to delegates included AoS volunteer recruitment and upskilling, collaboration between centres and sharing resources, ecumenical cooperation, port support for seafarer welfare facilities and the changing needs of seafarers.
A new app for the Apostleship of the Sea was also highlighted.
All in all, the conference was attended by about 50 delegates including nine from New Zealand — from Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington and Lyttelton.
Also at the conference were Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil, secretary of the Pontifical Council
for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, and Bishop Bosco Puthur, the bishop promoter for the AoS in Australia.
At the conference, a structure was developed to facilitate a collaborative response to the needs of other parts of Oceania.
Apostleship of the Sea regional coordinators from throughout the world also met in Sydney and shared experiences with the Oceania delegates.