Raise up our Sail, Rise up for our Country
Pastoral Statement about our SeafarersLast Sunday, July 12 was Sea Sunday. Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis affirms “we are united with all those who work in the sea, especially those who are far from their loved ones and their country.” The heart of our dear Holy Father goes to our seafarers. He cares and is concerned about them. They are not forgotten. Our Church is always with them, praying for their safety and sound health, working for their wellbeing and welfare, interceding for protection and promotion of their rights and dignity.
On the succeeding days, our dedicated and devoted Stella Maris Chaplain of the Archdiocese of Manila, Father Paolo Prigol, CS informed me, “Bishop, there are many cruise ships anchored in the waters of Manila Bay.” You may ask what the reason was as I also inquired “why?” He replied, “while other nations ‘refused’ them for enforcing continued precautionary measures against Coronavirus, our country welcomes and allows foreign cruise ships to dock and remain lying in anchor in our waters. It is because most of their crew and officers are Filipinos.” And that is very true, as it turns out Filipinos to be a third of all cruise ships crews.
This gracious gesture of our Philippine government and all other officials is truly admirable and laudable. It is a clear and concrete manifestation of what the Filipinos, seafarers and migrant workers are very much known for: their hospitality, honesty and hardworking. Our land and sea based migrant workers have shown resilience, strength and courage amidst difficulty and dangers, storms and separations, as they brave the seas and labor on land.
Now reflecting deeper and taking the old maxim “harbor is your home,” we could turn this crisis of Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to position our country as a leading hub of the global maritime industry. As we know, our Filipino seafarers are much sought-after crew for cruise, cargo or tanker. Thus, we have the able manpower and resources- our fellow Filipinos who are natural seafarers. Our educational maritime systems and school are world class. Just to cite an example is the world-renowned Maritime Academy of Asia and Pacific, a very much respected and highly esteemed school located in Bataan, within my Diocese of Balanga. Geographically, it is advantageous for us since we are a nation of islands with deep harbors. Again, for illustration purposes, we have well established and organized Stella Maris all over our country, especially in the Archdioceses of Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao, Manila and Lipa; the Dioceses of Balanga, Iba and Talibon.
Seafarers are very much essential service providers. They are key workers for the growth of the economy and for the transit of material goods, medical supplies and mineral elements. Their services and expertise in cargo or tankers ships make the commodities and goods move around swiftly and safely around the globe. Their sacrifices and exemplary works in cruise or passenger ships make our travels memorable and pleasing.
However, with this Covid-19 pandemic, everything and everyone momentarily came to a halt. Everything is affected. Everyone suffered, especially our seafarers because of the national travel restrictions, which hinder them from joining or leaving the ships and to transit to different international territories. Even their travel histories have become collateral suspects of Coronavirus carriers. Now is the most opportune time to show gratitude and appreciation for their sacrifices and service by reaching out to them, by our compassion, and by our material and spiritual support.
Time will come when our seafarers will sail out again. All hands will be on the deck. With God’s unending mercy and with His mighty power, we will surpass and survive this deadly Coronavirus. We will be saved and will experience a smooth sailing in our life journey. With the maternal guidance and mediation of our Blessed Virgin Mary, the Star of the seas, help and healing will descend upon us.
This worrisome Covid-19 pandemic abruptly and temporarily brought our ships to lower its sails for general public safety and for the universal common good. Likened to the medieval Venetian customary preventive measures, as they are now anchored on deep waters or docked at ports, let us take this quaranta as a challenge to position and prime our country as one of the leading global maritime hubs; and as a reassurance to our seafarers to make them stay safe, keep strong, and remain sound as they wait to eventually be welcomed to their next embarkation.
Together, as one, let us raise our sail. Let us rise up for our country.
Bishop of Balanga and CBCP Bishop-Promoter of the Apostleship of the Seas Philippines
Memorial of our Lady of Mount Carmel, 2020