AOS Featured Stories: A Faith Filled Life on the Sea
Reflections from an AOS chaplain in the Port of Houston
Fr. Jan Kubisa is a priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston- Houston and Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) chaplain in the Port of Houston
I was born and ordained to the priesthood in Poland. In 1987 I went to Africa to do missionary work. Then I was invited to work in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. In 2004, I joined the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) which is the Catholic maritime ministry in the Port of Houston. Serving “all the nations” is the continuation of my missionary call. Seafarers from all over the world as well as US merchant mariners come to the Port of Houston year round. The majority of seafarers are Catholic.
I work with an ecumenical team of chaplains in the Houston International Seafarers’ Center. There are several protestant chaplains, two Roman Catholic priests, a Blessed Sacrament brother and a deacon sharing in the port ministry alongside numerous volunteers who help out in various ways. I was told that our port ministry in Houston is the best organized port ministry in the world. The founder and coordinator, Fr. Rivers Patout considers the port ministry to be the most precious part of his work.
As a Catholic priest I am in the front line of an essential pastoral service to seafarers. I often celebrate Mass on board ship. Occasionally, I help seafarers with the sacrament of reconciliation. I visit 5-10 vessels daily and bring the Good News in a simple way to thousands of hard working people. Often, a little gift of the Rosary or a prayer card which I give while ship visiting can make a difference in the lives of seafarers who are far away from home and on the sea for weeks or months on end. In return, I receive a great gift of hospitality and gratitude from numerous seafarers when I go up the ship.
There is a delicate balance between evangelizing and simply responding to seafarers’ needs. There were occasions when I celebrated Mass for only one or two seafarers. Yet it was on one of such occasions that a seafarer said: “it was the most meaningful Mass in my life”. For me, it was rewarding.
Sometimes seafarers would like to come to our Center but they are stuck on board ship because some do not have access to shore leave. In recent years unnecessary restrictions and regulations make it impossible at times for many seafarers to go on shore. I am fortunate to be able to stay and pray with those people very often. It is truly a unique ministry of reconciliation for people who are marginalized by the situation.
In particular, I enjoy those moments when I speak Russian with so many East European seafarers. They open up whenever they hear their native language spoken. The seafaring communities from the former Soviet Union are God fearing people. There are days in the Seafarers’ Center when the majority of visiting sailors are from countries of the former Soviet Union and they truly enjoy using our facilities.
Our ministry is always changing. There are new challenges. There are old problems too. Nevertheless the need for this ministry is so obvious and many seafarers reward us with their genuine gratitude for what we do.