AOS Featured Stories: A Faith Filled Life on the Sea
Stella Maris of New Orleans, LA1
At Stella Maris in New Orleans, there are currently three deacons assigned with two volunteers who have served Stella Maris for over 10 years. The two volunteers received the St. Louis Medallion from the Archbishop for their service to the ministry and to the Archdiocese. Stella Maris in the city of Destrehan is our center for maritime ministry. Stella Maris covers the maritime ports within the metropolitan New Orleans area and provides spiritual services and practical support to seafarers and fishermen.
We go up on ships to perform communion service at seafarers’ request and to bless the ship especially if a seafarer has died on board. The Stella Maris center provides the seafarers with a chapel where they can pray and a communion service can be conducted. The practical services include access to communications such as: providing cell phones at no cost to the seafarer and cell phone cards with a nominal charge for the seafarers to contact their loved ones back home. Some seafarers prefer to come to the center where there is a basketball court, pool table and a television for their leisure pleasure. When our staffing permits it, we take seafarers to business centers. In the next few weeks, a new server for our computers and a new configuration will be installed with new software for the seafarer to actually see his family on the computer and talk to them.
Stella Maris has been called upon by the local representative of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to assist seafarers who are sometimes held as material witnesses in pollution cases by the Coast Guard. A couple of years ago one such case involved six seafarers who were put up into two apartments in a nearby suburb of New Orleans. The ITF representative made us aware of their circumstances and we at Stella Maris provided communion services and visits to the seafarers where they stayed. Stella Maris arranged for a local Filipino group active with Stella Maris to pick up the seafarers who were mostly Catholic and took them to church. This volunteer group also fixed meals for them. Stella Maris staff would bring them to the center so the seafarers could use email and just have a change of scenery. This situation lasted for approximately four to six months as they awaited the trial.
Last year, we were confronted with a terrible tragedy. The April 20, 2010 blowout that led to an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 men, and sent millions of barrels of oil into the water and along shorelines off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
As a result of the Gulf oil spill, the costal Louisiana communities and parishes suffering from the oil spill needed assistance and aid to deal with the loss of their livelihood and emotional stress from the spill. The assistance and aid was provided by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Catholic Charities. A call was made to the deacon community for assistance.
In the Archdiocese, the deacons assigned to the Stella Maris Maritime Ministry (Apostleship of the Sea), were requested to assist in the development of a pastoral ministry
plan and training effort for deacons, religious, and lay ministers to provide an on-site presence. A training program was developed and instructions focused on:
- Ministry of Presence
- Understanding both demographics and cultural issues of those impacted
- Presence based upon clear understanding of needs
- What constitutes the grieving process
- The role of empathy
- Dynamics of crisis counseling
- What to look for in terms of depression
- Goals of short term counseling
- Boundary issues and referral points
- Privacy issues
To address the immediate needs of the fishermen and their families who were waiting at distribution sites for hours without food or water, deacons and their wives immediately sought to provide meals on site and arranged to have cold water available for the clients at all times. Over 2,500 meals were provided with the assistance of Catholic Charities. As a ministry of presence, deacons and wives met with over 225 individuals one on one. Also, prayer cards and rosary beads were provided to the fishermen and family members.
The AOS Gulf Oil Spill Task Force, which was composed of AOS chaplains in the impacted Gulf Coast areas, worked hard to help their local coastal and fishing communities.
Being true to the calling of the deacon, the deacons and their wives did the will of God from their hearts; they served the people with love and joy, and were present and reached out to those in need of God’s healing love and God’s healing touch.