The world as a home
One characteristic of the modern world is loneliness. We can say that this is one of the elements of life at sea. For this reason, the maritime ministry will be marked to a very great extent by the concern to welcome and offer hospitality in the name of the local Christian community. The visits on board are an expression of this hospitality, which calls for leaving one's habits in order to receive the arriving crews in a very cordial way.
The virtue of hospitality is an essential ingredient of maritime pastoral care because despite our alleged openness in society today, we are still reluctant, as individuals or as a community, to accept foreigners, and especially some categories of foreigners. Seafarers have always been marginalized as a professional group, regardless of their national or cultural origin.
We still have to dedicate a good part of our energies to educating and guiding the faithful of the local churches to give a more prompt welcome to visiting seafarers, and to consider them as ordinary persons with a responsible job that causes them to be separated very often from their own families and ecclesial communities.
One concrete form of hospitality practiced in many ports is what is called the "Family Hospitality Project". This plan involves the participation of select families that agree to receive seafarers stopping in the port in their homes from time to time seafarers, and offer them a meal, for instance, or a tourist visit in their car, an invitation to a family or parish barbecue, etc.
The idea obviously has some limits and can normally be carried out only on the weekends, but even in this case, the possibilities offered are immense. All ports do not have hospitality centers. This is an apostolate based on the family that affects people who would otherwise have no opportunity to take part in a social evening at a Center, for example.
In the past, this last aspect had a very big place in the port hospitality program, but now it is one the wane, and who knows why... In addition to being a tangible expression of hospitality for seafarers by the local society, it offers a unique opportunity to create personal contacts and then to exercise Christian influence...
The "maritime" dioceses and parishes, therefore, are called to an "ordinary pastoral commitment" with regard to the people of the sea. If this idea is accepted and developed, it will turn into awareness and culture, and with time it can produce positive results for seafarers and represent a possible way out of the situation of structural marginalization to which the lives of those who work on the sea are relegated. On the one hand, it can give those who work on the sea strong roots and substantial expressions on land, while on the other, it can make the people on land responsible to act as a link between those who spend a great part of their time at sea, and the communities on land...
The time seems ripe for the work of individual and charismatic precursors to result in building the Church's responsibility towards the people of the sea. In this sense, the role of the marine communities, dioceses and parishes is fundamental. They have the vocation to be a bridge or frontier community between the people of the sea and the people on land since they share both realities. In this way, extraordinary pastoral care for the people of the sea will be transformed into ordinary pastoral care, one of the sectors in which the commitment of the community is commonly expressed, and today this is not taken for granted at all.
Concretely, this involves linking, or rather specializing a parish community in this ministry of welcome for the people of the sea in an ongoing way, on behalf of, and with the involvement of the entire diocesan community. If it is true, as it should be, that maritime pastoral care is part of ordinary pastoral care, at least in the marine dioceses, it is also true that for more than thirty years there has not been a reference, mention or indication in the diocesan pastoral plans of this truly necessary hospitality.
In Italy, at least two million seafarers touch down on our coasts in every port, almost all foreigners through language, culture and race. They are men and woman who ask to be visited (many times they cannot get off the ship because of security restrictions) and welcomed, if only for five minutes. They make up an enormous Christian community (more than 80% are Christian) that asks for the consolation of a moment of prayer and a pastor who will pick up their nostalgia for their families and friends.
Rev. Giacomo Martino
Extract from original ;"Il porto e la citta' come una casa: dall'evanescenza all'accoglienza(The port and the city as a home:from evanescence to welcome) appeared in "Migranti" No.5/2004