ITALIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS ON SEAFARERS' WELFARE
Rocca di Papa(Rome) May 19,21 2005
For the first time two Catholic Organizations, the National Migrants’ Office of the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Italian National Office of the Apostleship of the Sea met for three days, May 19-21, 2005, at Rocca di Papa, near Rome, to reflect on "The Welfare of Seafarers" in the ports of Italy. The focus of the Congress was to explore the pastoral and welfare needs of the "people of the sea' and study how the organizational forces and voluntary services can respond to their needs. More than 2 millions are the 'transient" people touching one of the 300 ports in Italy every year where the services are often either insufficient or altogether lacking.
In preparation to the Congress, Fr. Giacomo Martino, National Director for the Apostleship of the Sea, in collaboration with the National Migrants' Office, organized a series of gatherings in order to establish Local Welfare Committees . These gatherings have seen the participation of volunteers' associations, port authorities and international and national unions. The objective was to establish among all of them properly authorized welfare committees to welcome and assist passengers and crew in port.
At the Congress, Dr. Giuseppe Alati, Port Security Director, representing the Minister of Transportation, urged the immediate implementation of local Welfare Committees in port and stressed the importance of networking among them as laid down in the ILO Convention 163. Admiral Raimondo Pollastrini, of the Italian Navy, offered the cooperation of all 300 local port contingents of the Navy and volunteers, while the ITF Inspector General, Commander Remo di Fiore, guaranteed full support to this initiative with the support of the Shipping Associations. Fr. Giacomo Martino, in his address to the participants, stressed that "the starting and final objective" of the maritime transportation of goods and people is the "person" to whom the dynamic of rules and laws must address its services and offer its protection.
The Congress saw the intervention of three important speakers: Bishop Lino Bellotti, president of the Italian Episcopal Commission for Migrants, the Minister Claudio Scajola, representing the Italian Government, and Card. Fumjo Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for the Migrants.
In his opening address, Bishop L. Bellotti stated categorically that "the security laws enforced today make of the seafarers in ocean-going vessels truly "prisoners on board". On the pastoral need, the Bishop stated that "seafarers are one of those groups of people who like the sick and the prisoners cannot approach the Church and therefore it is the Church who is responsible to approach them." Then he continued: "These world-travelers, when choosing the maritime profession to escape poverty and unemployment, have made the difficult choice to be separated from their family and their normal community on land and often face discomforting and frustrating situations. Therefore, they need understanding and solidarity".
In reference to the vacationing travelers on luxury liners, Bishop Bellotti reminded that "the seafarers are not lucky tourists but workers onboard, in all seasons and in the most demanding situation : truly migrants”. Over 2 million seafarers reach annualy one of the Italian ports, in luxury liners and mercantile ships, stated the Bishop: 'The Church must be present to offer them proper human development and evangelization because they are members of the universal Church". Indeed, there are "Stella Maris" Centers as friendly and welcoming homes for them, but "they need people to welcome them, to listen to them, to accompany them in their often turbulent and difficult moments as people of the sea, people they can trust for an enlightened guidance and soothing direction", the Bishop said. On board luxury liners with hundreds of seafarers and thousands of passengers, the presence and ministry of chaplains are also needed. In fact only seven(7) benefit of these services, often because ship principals refuse to accept a priest on board, or bishops do not wish to "lose" a priest for this ministry. 'This is a scandal", the bishop stated.
Minister Claudio Scajola, for the Italian Government, in his message, underlined the moral obligation to attend to the working conditions of seafarers and to their families at home, since many of the seafarers come from developing countries. These (the seafarers) have a human dignity and their profession needs be respected by national and international laws. The participants applauded when the Minister stated that "the ILO Convention 163 must be ratified as soon as possible by this Italian Government". On the other hand, he recognized the efforts of the Catholic National Migrants' Office for its commitment to continue and improve the pastoral structures in assistance to seafarers.
Cardinal F. Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants, offered some conclusive remarks at the end of the Congress. He lamented the fact that "the ILO Convention 163, which deals with practical and mandated requirements for the welfare of seafarers and their assistance in port, though ratified by many countries, remains in fact only a signature on paper, without practical implementations for better services and assistance in port". Card. Hamao reiterated the principle that "the economy is for the progress man, not man for the progress of economy'. And he continued: "The devastating forces of economic progress are often oblivious of the weak and the marginalized migrants. Poverty deriving from the uncontrolled globalization is the worst form of violation against the human dignity. The Gospel and the Church teach us that the human dignity is the essential value to respect. Consequently, the Apostleship of the Sea is called to give a human face to the globalization forces in the maritime industry and must contribute in the preparation of rules in the new international ordinances which must respect ethical principles in regard to solidarity and inviolability of the human dignity". Note: At was announced at the end of the Congress that news and comments on the "Stella Maris" activities can now be downloaded from the AOS services found in: www.aposmar.net in various languages.