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Interview With a Director of a Maritime Ministry

LONDON, MARCH 25, 2007 (Zenit) - In an increasingly globalized world, the Church is making it known that people come before profit, says the national director in Great Britain of the Apostleship of the Sea.

According to Commodore Chris York, this is the biggest challenge for the agency of the Church that offers pastoral care to those who live off seafaring and fishing.

York, a former fighter pilot, captain and commodore in the Royal Navy, spoke with us about how the Church is promoting the human dignity of seafarers in the midst of what he called the "first truly globalized industry."

The Apostleship of the Sea will hold its 22nd five-yearly world congress June 24-29 in Poland.

Q: What attracted you to take on a leadership role within the Catholic Church's maritime ministry in Great Britain?

York: I think all of us have particular areas of expertise which can be used for the service of the Church, and so the chance to utilize my experiences to build up the Church's pastoral outreach to merchant seafarers meant a great deal to me.

During my time in the Navy, I witnessed and benefited from the good work of the Stella Maris centers, which are sponsored by the Apostleship of the Sea, in many ports around the world.

I was, therefore, particularly interested to take the helm of the Apostleship of the Sea in Great Britain in 2001 when it was relaunched to meet the new challenges of a radically changed maritime industry.

Q: How should the Church respond to the particular challenges of globalization?

York: Globalization is one of the biggest issues of our day, and the international maritime industry is probably the first truly globalized industry. While there are many benefits of globalization, it also brings many challenges -- particularly of a pastoral nature since the rights of individuals can all too easily be overlooked in the pursuit of profit and efficiency.

The Church's primary response must be to affirm the human dignity of all workers -- to value them for who they are, not for what they can produce. In the maritime world, the Church declares that seafarers are not commodities, but the industry's greatest resource, and the best way to aid the smooth running of the industry is to address the human, spiritual and pastoral needs of seafarers. We call it "putting a human face on globalization".

Q: What is the role of the Apostleship of the Sea in doing this?

York: Our trained port chaplains and ship visitors welcome seafarers to our shores as brothers and sisters, in the name of Christ and the Catholic community. By recognizing them as human beings with human needs and concerns, and by demonstrating our solidarity with them, we are making a powerful statement that people come before profit.

The Church must examine what the practical local pastoral reaction should be to these movements of people. A seafarer will spend many months at a time away from home, living an itinerant life for many years. There are, therefore, distinctive roles for the "sending" parishes of the seafarer's home country, and for those port parishes he visits on his travels.

Seafarers live their lives through three communities. There is first their personal community of home and family; second the community at sea with fellow crew members; and third the community of the port parish which should reach out and include them when they visit. If the seafarer's relationship with any of these communities is damaged, then it can be a cause of despair.

Helping the seafarer to maintain, establish and develop these three community relationships is the practical way in which the Apostleship of the Sea puts a human face on the effects of globalization.

Q: Do you think interest in fair trade ignores the conditions of those who transport the goods across the oceans?

York: Seafarers are what we might call the middle men of globalized trade, and the conditions they endure at sea are largely hidden from us. At the same time as promoting justice for producers in the developing world, we must be consistent and demand improved conditions for all seafarers who work to transport the goods across the oceans.

In common with all of us, they deserve respect and have the right to work in safety and security. Also, shoppers who quite rightly wish to support trade justice by buying products labeled and promoted as "fair trade" should be able to feel confident that all those involved in the production and transportation of the product are treated fairly.

The fact of the matter is that seafarers all too often suffer dangerous working conditions, denial of wages and shore leave, exploitation and intimidation. Ship owners often register their vessels under so-called flags of convenience to avoid taxes and tighter safety regulation. Many unscrupulous shipping and crew manning agents operate under a veil of secrecy, and have even been known to threaten seafarers' families.

Q: Do you think that greater freedom of movement and trade around the world provides opportunities for evangelization?

York: Undoubtedly it does, although there are also new challenges and threats to take into account as well.

With increased movement of people, money, goods and information around the world, the mission of the Church becomes less localized, and we all have to take a more global perspective.

Providing pastoral care to the many millions of people on the move -- both those who travel as part of their work, and those who are migrants or refugees -- presents considerable logistical challenges, and requires new models of ministry.

However, it also makes it possible for the Church to reach out to, and make contact with, far greater numbers of people from varied cultures and situations -- people who otherwise may never have had the chance to encounter the Gospel.

We in the Catholic Church must be ready for this, making sure that our global vision is matched on the ground with adequate pastoral provision to meet people where they are -- walking alongside them, sharing their lives, understanding their culture and traditions and enlightening their experiences with the light of Christ.

Engaged lay people are key to this outreach. It has been an important lesson for us to learn here in Great Britain that we can recruit lay people of faith and fervor and train them for full-time ministry in the maritime world.

Q: You are now a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. What have you learned about the contribution of the Catholic Church to world affairs, particularly in the area of migration and human rights?

York: The Catholic Church has a huge role to play in ensuring that a balanced, holistic view of the human person, which takes into account intrinsic human dignity and the spiritual dimension, prevails in intergovernmental bodies and meetings. The Holy See can achieve this, for example, by virtue of its participation in the various bodies of the United Nations, and through its diplomatic missions throughout the world.

The Church also has a powerful moral voice, based in part on the experience of its members and pastoral personnel on the ground, who share the experiences of people at the coalface, as it were, of globalization -- such as seafarers.

This was very evident, for example, at the negotiations in Geneva last year concerning the new Consolidated Maritime Labor Convention which, when ratified and effectively implemented, will ensure fairer and safer working conditions for seafarers.

The International Christian Maritime Association, of which we are a part, and the Holy See helped to ensure that the convention required nations to promote pastoral and welfare services, such as those provided by the Apostleship of the Sea.

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Keywords

Globalization, Sea, Maritime, York, Navy

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