ICMA World Conference 2019

The International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) is organising a World Conference in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, meeting from October 21-25, 2019.

ICMA is a free association of 29 charitable organisations working for the welfare of seafarers, fishers and their families. These organisations represent various Christian churches and communities that operate in more than 400 seafarers’ centres in more than 100 countries. ICMA was founded in 1969 to encourage collaboration and mutual assistance among seafarers’ ministry organisations. Such working together works at local level, in port, and at national and international level. In a fragmented and divided society, it is the mission of ICMA to promote unity, peace and tolerance. It is the duty of every ICMA chaplain and welfare worker to serve seafarers, fishers and their dependants regardless of nationality, religion, culture, gender or ethnic origin.

The 2019 World Conference theme is “50 Years of Working Together for Seafarers, Fishers and their Families”. We will have opportunity during the Conference to celebrate the 50 years of our common mission, but, more importantly, the Conference will focus on our present and future “Working Together.” We believe that we are stronger and seafarers are better served when we work in partnership with one another. For this reason, we welcome the presence and active participation in the Conference of partners from the maritime or fishing industries, government, labour, or other non-profit charities.

We are very pleased to be working together with our local hosts, The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan Seamen’s / Fishermen’s Service Center, in the organisation of this Conference. The Conference will take place at the Ambassador Hotel (202 Minsheng 2nd Rd., Kaohsiung 80144, Taiwan).

For more information, please contact ICMA at gensec@icma.as

Introduction to Seafarers’ Welfare and Maritime Ministry – May-June 2018

Maritime ministries have undergone profound developments in the last generation. Those involved in seafarers’ welfare and ministry need to continue to develop professionally to help their work adapt to changing realities. This course gives an overview and discussion of key issues in seafarers’ welfare and maritime ministry. The course is designed for new chaplains, ship visitors and volunteers, but should also be useful for those who have experience in maritime ministry, but wish to sharpen their skills.

Course Director: Dr. Jason Zuidema, General Secretary, ICMA, gensec@icma.as


  • Online posted weekly online (5) – beginning April 25 online
  • In class one week Hamburg, Germany – May 27 – June 2, 2017 in class
  • Online posted weekly online (2)

Course Locations:

  • Dedicated course website link sent to students
  • Webinars (recorded on “Gotomeeting”)
  • In class – Conference room and excursions in Hamburg, Germany

Registration Cost: 450EUR

(includes 6 nights accommodation at DSM Krayenkamp Seafarers’ Hotel and meals May 27-June 2) **possibility of partial bursaries for travel costs, but not known until Spring 2018**

Course size: 25 students maximum


Seafarers’ Hotel Krayenkamp

Krayenkamp 5, 20459 Hamburg


Topics and lecturers: Dr. Jason Zuidema and various professors (international and local experts to be announced).

Readings: Short texts or recorded speeches given with each lesson.


ICMA Seminar Hamburg February 6

Meeting the Challenges of Seafarers’ Welfare: An ICMA Seminar

Tuesday, February 6, 2018
9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Introduction: Those who wish to serve the needs of seafarers’ wellbeing and health are faced with increasing challenges.  This one-day seminar brought together leading experts from different sectors to discuss the challenges and best practice solutions.  Focus was on cargo shipping, and also on seafarers’ welfare on cruise ships.

Location: Finnische Seemannsmission in Norddeutschland
Ditmar-Koel-Straße 6, DE-20459 Hamburg

9:30 a.m. – Registration
9:45 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. – Session 1 – “Supporting Port Welfare
Welcome: Rev. Satu Oldendorff, Finnish Seamen’s Mission
Introduction: Rev. Heike Proske, Deutsche Seemannsmission, e.V.
– Runa Jörgens, German Ship Owner’s Association, presentation and video
– Dr. Jason Zuidema, ICMA, “Supporting Port Welfare” (powerpoint and text).
– Ulf Christiansen, ITF

10:45 a.m. – Coffee break

11:15 a.m – 12:00 p.m. – Session 2 – “Improving the health and wellbeing of seafarers and ship inspectors: A view from an occupational health physician”
Introduction: Rev’d Canon Andrew Wright, The Mission to Seafarers
Speaker: Dr. Clara Schlaich, Maritime Health

12 p.m. – 1 p.m. – Lunch

1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Session 2 – “Cruise Ship Crew Welfare”
Introduction: Fr. Bruno Ciceri, Apostleship of the Sea
– Tino Hensel, Carnival Maritime GmbH
– Markus Wichmann, Deutsche Seemannsmission, Hamburg, “Seafarers’ Lounge”
– Lesley Warrick, NAMMA/Seafarers’ House, Ft. Lauderdale

2:30 p.m. – Coffee break

2:45–3:30 p.m. – Session 3 – “Seafarers’ Welfare: Thinking Ahead of the Curve”
Introduction: Jason Zuidema, ICMA
Small group discussion

3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Closing Prayer in FSM Chapel
Liturgy leader: Rev. Matthias Ristau (liturgy and homily text)

4 p.m.  End of Seminar

For more information: gensec@icma.as

ICMA Hamburg Feb 2018

ITF Seafarers’ Trust launches Shore Leave app 3.0

posterThe ITF Seafarers’ Trust is excited to launch the new version of Shore Leave, an app designed for seafarers. This time all of the seafarers’ centres listed in the app can be involved, and it needs your help to make this successful.

The aim of the new version of Shore Leave is to encourage more seafarers to visit the centres you run and to have more fun using the app. To do so, the app has implemented a raffle system using QR codes. Each Seafarers’ Centre listed in the app is allocated a specific QR code for its centre/location. Seafarers that visit the centre will scan the QR code with the App and receive an electronic raffle ticket to take part in our raffle. Every 4 months the raffle winner will be selected from all of the entrants and a new raffle will start. The first winner will get an IPad.

The app implements a map system as well. Seafarers can either use the maps while they are online or download and use them offline. Seafarers will be able to post pins on the map about places of interest so that other seafarers using the app will see the recommendations from others that have already visited that particular port or city. They can pin down sport facilities, good bars, bus stop etc.

Moreover, the app added some customization options. It is now possible to upload a profile photo and keep track of carrier on board, adding the name of the ship seafarers are sailing with, ranks and where and when they sign on or off.

Shore Leave was first launched in 2014, the very first app specifically developed for seafarers. The idea was to collect seafarers’ centres contact details in an app, knowing that most seafarers cannot rely on an internet connection. The app, once downloaded, was and still is functioning offline. All the contacts are stored in seafarers’ phones and easily accessible at any time, so that they can always call for a bus to give them a ride to the seafarers’ centre, mall or nearby city.

Once again we hope that seafarers can get the most out of their Shore Leave.


ICMA Northern Europe Regional Conference, 9-12 October 2017 in Tallinn


The ICMA Northern Europe Regional conference took place in Tallinn, Estonia from October 9-12.  Hosted by the Estonian Seamen’s Mission in Muuga port, the meeting took place at the convention centre of the historic Bridgettine Convent in Pirita in the outskirts of Tallinn.

On the first evening we were welcomed at the Seamen’s Mission in Muuga.  Opening worship in the beautiful chapel was followed by a delicious dinner.  Thank you to Eeric Jõks, Natalia Trummer, Herki Talen, and the rest of the team for the warm welcome.

Conference speakers on the following days included Douglas Stevenson of SCI New York, Rev. Matthias Ristau, Rev. Wolfgang Pautz-Wilhelm, and ICMA General Secretary, Dr. Jason Zuidema.

Highlights of the program included an excursion for a refreshing nature hike in a protected Estonian bog, visit to an old manor house and restaurant for authentic local cuisine, and a visit to a one-of-a-kind private maritime museum and chapel in the historic ship-building town of Käsmu.

At the conclusion of the conference, Rev. Matthias Ristau was chosen as the new regional coordinator.  All expressed thanks to Rev. Wolfgang Pautz-Wilhelm, the outgoing regional coordinator, for having planned a lovely and useful program in Estonia.

Matthias Ristau encouraged all the participants to remain in contact with each other: “Remember that we are ICMA.  If we have events in our ports or news that could be of interest to each other, please let the others know.  It is good to stay in touch.”

ICMA General Secretary, Jason Zuidema, remarked that “this regional conference was a great opportunity for encouraging and networking.  When we are together we learn from each other and can do the work better in our own local ports.”

Participants and friends are encouraged to like and share the new regional Facebook page found at:  https://www.facebook.com/ICMANorthernEurope/



NSUK Nordiska Sjömans- och Utlandskyrkorådet – Council of Nordic Seamen’s Churches in Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway and Sweden

Uppsala, Sweden 9–10 June 2017

written by rev Jaakko Laasio, FSM

The Nordic council gathers every second year. This year it was hosted by the Church of Sweden and its international department, the Swedish Church abroad. Present were delegates from Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway and Sweden, in total 17 people.


The two day seminar started with two presentations of Christian Calling and Interreligious Dialogue. Formal meeting and members’ reports filled the other day. Sweden and Uppsala was in full summer bloom and all delegates could enjoy the atmosphere of the old university town just north-west of the capital Stockholm.

The Christian Calling leads to a Social Responsibility, was one of the theses of the Very Rev Pernilla Parenmalm from Torshälla, Sweden. She has written a study around the theme for clerical meetings in Church of Sweden. Revd. Parenmalm took us to a personal journey on Christian calling and what it means for each and one of us.1

Professor Mikael Kurkiala from University in Uppsala, Sweden enlightened his subject with personal experiences from various periods lived in a native American reservation in South Dakota, USA. He studied the culture in an anthropologist’s perspective, but as a “natural culture” religion is constantly present. We discussed the importance of understanding different religious languages and even meanings on expressions in relations to different cultural backgrounds. Both themes are familiar to international seafarers’ missions.

Day 1 ended in a delicious meal in a top-floor restaurant with view over all Uppsala. After a peaceful night, it was time to meet again.

Members’ reports were given by the delegates.

Denmark was this time represented by the Danish seamen’s mission and church abroad (DSUK). They have activities around the world in 53 locations of which 22 are in Danish speaking areas in Northern Germany. DSUK has two main tasks: 1. to serve the Danish speaking minority south of the Danish-German border 2. to work elsewhere in the world (with Danish people and seafarers)

Faroe Islands has a seamen’s mission with 36 years of existence. Today it is a church with no priest and no church, but with an administration and active volunteers. They do fundraising by volunteers and are able to serve Faroe seafarers abroad in Iceland, London (UK) and Esbjerg (DK). A growing group of Faroese students living abroad is demanding more attendance.


The Finnish Seamen’s Mission has worked with a renewed strategy now a year and a half. Service is given to seafarers and Finns abroad. The strategy includes also a plan for economic reform with a goal of no deficit by 2018. A deep cooperation with the Church of Finland continues especially on FSM stations abroad, but also with local parishes in Finland.

Earlier this year same sex marriage became legal in Finland, but not in the church of Finland. FSM reported that it made a bold statement to the church council urging it to change the church legislation. This statement raised positive reactions in the church and among Christian organizations working close to the church.

The Norwegian seamen’s church and church abroad, NSUK has recognised a new security situation in the world. It has connection with a new economic situation dictated especially of oil price, but also increased mobility of people. The organization is working for Norwegians abroad and seafarers. One of the challenges is to find right places to be. “Less cathedrals but more tents” is the line to follow now. With light constructions is easier to react on the movements of people. NSUK has worked with mobile chaplains for several years. They are totally 18 of which 10 serve on oil rigs at North sea, 5 for students around the world and 3 for Africa, Asia and South America.

Also NSUK launched a new strategy recently. It describes three signs of what it is to be NSUK: 1. close to life, 2. church searching for people and meeting them where they are, 3. caring for people

The Swedish Church abroad, SKUT is in the middle of a legal review of the whole organization. It has activities around the world and all stations are also local parishes connected to the diocese of Visby in Sweden. The structure is not compatible with local legislation in all countries and therefore a deep analysis is needed.

SKUT provided church and parish services for Swedes living abroad. The basics of the work are more or less the same than in other Nordic organizations.

Three other organizations belong to this group, but were not represented at the meeting: Indenlansk Sømandsmission (the Danish domestic seamen’s mission), the Seamen’s missions in Sweden and Finnish church abroad.

ICMA Annual General Meeting and Seminar, London, UK, Sept. 12-14, 2017

International Christian Maritime Association Active During London International Shipping Week


 London, 13 September 2017

The International Christian Maritime Association, the worldwide association of faith-based seafarers’ welfare providers, held its annual meeting and seminar in London this past week, coinciding with London International Shipping Week. Founded in 1969, the Association counts among its members seafarers’ welfare providers operating in more than 450 ports worldwide. Association member Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest hosted the meeting, which included the Port Welfare Partnership Project launch and seminar at Trinity House on September 13 in collaboration with the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) and the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB). Seminar topics included best practice on the formation and function of port welfare committees per the MLC, 2006 and the use of new technology for the provision of seafarers’ welfare.

At the meeting ICMA recognized the statutory end of term for Fr. Bruno Ciceri of the Apostleship of the Sea as Chair of the Board. The incoming Chair is Rev. Heike Proske, General Secretary of the Deutsche Seemannsmission. Commenting on this change, Rev. Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers and incoming Vice Chair of ICMA, offered thanks on behalf of ICMA to Fr. Bruno for “being passionate about ICMA and so committed to ecumenical work.” Wright said also that Rev. Proske “is ideal for leadership of the board – she has a deep ecumenical commitment, uncompromisingly believes in the ICMA project, and has a long experience with the Association.”

ICMA also announced a collaboration with the North American Maritime Ministry Association to bring on Dr. Jason Zuidema, Executive Director of NAMMA, as the General Secretary of ICMA. The arrangement will see Zuidema continue his role with NAMMA at two-thirds time, working with ICMA in the remaining third. Commenting on this arrangement, incoming Chair Rev. Proskesaid “we are pleased that NAMMA can work with us on this collaboration. We look forward to the next year of projects with Dr. Zuidema, including a renewed focus on professional development and networking.”

Zuidema brings with him experience in port chaplaincy and higher education in his native Montreal, Quebec, before becoming Executive Director of NAMMA in 2013. He has served as Vice Chair of the ICMA board since 2014. Addressing the board, Zuidema noted how pleased he was to work with ICMA at this time: “It is a privilege to serve as General Secretary of ICMA to help connect and encourage seafarers’ welfare across the globe. I welcome and encourage feedback and ideas on how ICMA can continue and improve service to its members.”

About ICMA: ICMA was founded in 1969 to encourage ecumenical collaboration and mutual assistance among faith-based seafarers’ welfare organisations. Such collaboration works at local level, in port, and at national and international level. In a fragmented and divided society, it is the mission of ICMA to promote unity, peace and tolerance. It is the duty of every ICMA chaplain and welfare worker to serve seafarers, fishers and their dependants regardless of nationality, religion, culture, gender or ethnic origin. www.icma.as


ICMA Western Europe Conference – May 10-12, 2017, Bremerhaven

ICMA Western Europe Conference 10th – 12th May 2017 Bremerhaven / Germany

Dear colleagues and friends!

Seamen’s missionary work lives and succeeds through networking cooperation of individual stations in different ports. Since 2008 we have not met in our region as the last coordinator gave up the post shortly after his election. The coordinator is normally elected only at the regional conference and because nobody could be found to organize the next conference, it has not been possible to elect a successor.

So now we have a Catch 22 situation: no coordinator, no conference – no conference, no coordinator.

In order to make a new start as ICMA partners in our region, we would like to invite you to Bremerhaven/ Germany from May 10th – 12th2017.

The main theme will be how we can make sure we can continue to hold our regional conferences and also stay in contact with each other.

In addition to this structural thinking and planning, we aim to encourage our partnership in ICMA, get to know each other again and share our experiences. After more than 8 long years, it really is time to meet again and we hope that you are all able to come to Bremerhaven to help reactivate the Western Europe Region of ICMA.

We will try to keep the costs of our meeting as low as possible. Nevertheless we have to ask for a participant contribution of 100 Euro per person. Accommodation and meals are included. The participating stations will be responsible for their own travelling expenses.

If anybody needs financial help please contact us beforehand.

To register please send an email to: christine.freytag@seemannsmission.org

Registrations must be received by March 3rd 2017. We look forward to seeing you in Bremerhaven! Your Organizing Team from the DSM

Antje Zeller Werner Gerke Matthias Ristau Christine Freytag


ICMA Ship Visitor App

How to get access to the ICMA Ship Visitor App


screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-35-59-am-2All ICMA members are able to use the Ship Visitor App and admin system provided to ICMA members by Sailors’ Society.

The Ship Visitor App and System have 2 levels of service as follows:

  • Ship Visitor V1.0 – Comprising the system as launched in January 2016
  • Ship Visitor V2.0 – The enhanced system


ICMA member organisations must now sign a software license agreement with Sailors’ Society regarding use of the system. This agreement replaces the one that ICMA signed on behalf of all of its members.

Please contact Paul Langham at Sailors’ Society plangham@sailors-society.org to arrange the signing of the agreement. He will need the correct legal name of your organisation and the version of the system you wish to use.


V1.0 of the system will cost $5 dollars per user per annum

V2.0 of the system will cost $2,000 per organisation and $50 per user per annum

You will be invoiced by Sailors’ Society once the agreement is signed, the invoice is for immediate payment.


Paul Langham acts as system super user and is contactable for help on using the system. Paul can also provide training. Sailors’ Society provide for Paul’s time but if you require him to visit your operation and deliver training travel expenses would be requested.

Enhancements and Updates

The V2.0 system will continue to be developed in conjunction with the user organisations, please contact Paul for more details.

Paul Langham
Ship Visitor App Administrator
+44 7971608446
Skype: abecketts


A Letter to St. Francis

A Letter to St. Francis

by  Fr. Arnaud de Boisseau, Chaplain, Port of Casablanca, Morocco,  May 2016.

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-54-04-am(Translated by Jason Zuidema. Original French text in: François d’Assise et Marseille, ed. Mgr Jean-Marc Aveline, Auxiliary bishop of Marseille, Institut Catholique de la Mediteranée, 2016. Used with permission.)


St. Francis,

I do not dare. I dare not write to you. I don’t know how to do it. I do not even know what to call you, what title I should use. I don’t have to write much in my job. And more, I am too accustomed to respecting hierarchy, authority, the higher ups, those who are important, those who are in command…Yet, it seemed to me possible…even if we have talked about you for centuries, even if we honor you (I would write that we offer incense for you even, but I do not write it). It seemed to me that you are a Great one, but an accessible Great one. This is the first time that I write to a Saint, so you can understand my hesitation, my reluctance. Maybe you want to stay available, accessible, remain the same; accessible to everyone. Yet, this is what I think I understand, this is what I thought I presumed in studying your life when I was in Sunday school: you remained a Saint at our level. A Saint at the same height as other humans. At my height, on the same level as me. At my very low level. This is what gives me courage to write to you.

I try to do my job well. Being a seafarer is not an easy job. We are far from everything. You can probably judge this, see it easily from where you are today. Take a look: we’re at 3.78 latitude and -151.69 longitude—that is, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This morning it is Pacific like its name; a calm, beautiful sea. A little swell, nothing alarming. But the weather predictions give us nothing to rejoice about. This calm will not last. A storm is coming. The Pacific will become enraged. Hearing two officers discuss it together, I understand that the company did not want the captain to change course to avoid the storm. A delay in showing up to the Panama Canal would be very expensive so it seems. So they will stick to the planned route, despite the storm. Won’t be the first time, we have seen lots of storms before. That is why we are paid to be here, no?

If risk writing to you, Francis, it’s actually because of another storm, one that is on land. When I went home after my last contract—I was five months in the Philippines—I got married. I’ve been married a few months now. We were engaged for several years, but you know, I was not earning enough when I was sailing on ferries, at home, and then we said we had to have at least a small house, even though now the project has become even bigger. Oh, I’m not complaining; the good Lord blessed us. My wife is pregnant. When I left Iloilo (It is an island in the central Philippines, but you know that well, right?), she was two months along. Now it’s been six months more. Six months already. It is not easy to live a pregnancy at a far distance from home…it’s not easy at any distance. But it is a sailor’s lot to be gone for long periods of time. We communicate via the Internet, as soon as we are in port and I can find a connection. This is our first task as soon as we arrive in port: how to find an Internet connection? Hearing her voice reassured me; it actually gives me energy in a way that I would never have thought possible. Just the sound of her voice. You can easily imagine what kind of conversation we had. Talking about our baby. It is amazing…I hardly dare tell you, yet it is true; hearing her voice, I might say feeling her voice, for me, it is as powerful as one can imagine. It is music to my ears. What can I say about the tone of the voice of the person you love? It is like being transported to paradise! As strong as our nights of love! I never imagined this could be possible, when we were first engaged or even during the first months of marriage. And yet it’s true, I swear. As strong as our nights of love. Today, love by Internet continues to carry me forward.

And yet… Now we are far from any port. This ocean is too big. We don’t have Internet on board. Only the satellite phone on the ship. And unfortunately you have to pay attention to the cost, despite my desire, despite my love, despite everything that I want. When I use that phone, my money seems to disappear into bottom of the Pacific Ocean. So I need to save my money for a call when the baby has arrived, for building our home. We have already prepared lots of things, but much more needs to be done. So, if we need to use the phone on the ship, we do so sparingly.

And just yesterday, it was Sunday, I allowed myself a little treat, just a few minutes of phone time, I was hoping to get a boost of energy for the week. But, instead, I received a kick in the stomach. It was hard to hear; too hard. My wife told me. She was not feeling well. The doctor advised her to go urgently to the hospital. She asked me what to do. I told her to go, no expense spared. Oh sure, I made sure to sound courageous and generous, I said words to reassure her, but deep down, I collapsed; like falling into a black hole, bottomless. Although my salary is much better than when I was working on ferries in the Philippines, as in the early years, I’m not sure I can meet the expense. You know, going to the hospital is expensive, very expensive, at home. And above all, it is this anxiety that gnaws at me, that torments me, that spins me around. Our child, our first child, is he suffering? How is he doing? Despite the reassuring words to my wife, I can’t help but imagine the disaster it would be if anything happened to her…Slowly, I started thinking about how I would hold our child in my arms two months after his birth (our contracts are for nine months, and I sometimes curse those contracts that last exactly the time of a baby’s growth).

This morning, lost and isolated in the middle of this endless ocean, I don’t feel good. Seasickness is nothing compared to homesickness, the longing for family, longing for my darling wife, thinking of our future child.

Francis, since you are a Saint that is my height, maybe you can hear me? Maybe understand me? Listen to me? Help me?

As soon as he saw me, Joselito, my best friend on board, immediately understood that I wasn’t doing well…I told him. He did all he could to reassure me. He has been at sea for six years, he has experience. He said that all seafarers suffer from homesickness, and loneliness. He repeatedly spoke of the stress on board, when you have too much pressure, too much responsibility, it is always difficult to adjust to the situation of life on board. He even told me that I should not count too much on going ashore. That we are most often too far from everything. Too far out to get off, to relax, to forget the ship for an hour. And if we had the opportunity to get off, we are often too tired to take it. We are the forgotten of the world. Its like we are in prison on the ship. A prison that floats, a prison that moves, a prison that navigates, a prison that never stops, a prison that goes around the world, but a prison nonetheless. That’s our seafarer life: wherever we are in the world, we are always elsewhere; too far from towns; too far from the Internet; too far from our families. We who bring everything people need, we are forgotten ourselves. We are the forgotten on the periphery of the world.

It is Joselito, who recommended that I write. Only to write. Doesn’t matter who I write to, he told me. To destress, to combat anxiety, to put on the unimaginable confidence that we need to wear like some sort of armor, in stressful situations like the one I was in. At first I thought he was laughing, he was making fun of me. But no, he was serious. He gave me experienced advice. So I told him I would try. Without believing in myself. I do not even know to whom I should write! Then I remembered having read the story of your life, when I was in Sunday school. I was struck to find out how you were the friend of little ones; especially the small and poor. And I’m also reminded of our Pope, called Francis (this can’t be a coincidence), who speaks of the peripheries of the world. He has not mentioned us, seafarers. Still, I know it is about me, I feel like I am moving and floating on the edges of the world. That’s why I chose to write to you. So that you could bear all those who are on the edges of the ocean, but also my wife and my unborn child.

I sailed several years on ferries, at home, in the Philippines. There were many of us on board, all Filipinos, of course. Here it’s very different. We are only twenty-one sailors aboard. And above all, we are from six different countries. Six very different countries. That took time to get used to. We first had to understand. You know, the universal language is of sailors is English. But this does not mean we understand the first time someone talks to us! We don’t dare ask some officers to repeat themselves, even when we are not sure we understand. Not everyone has the patience. If we do not obey quickly enough, some yell, and when they yell, it paralyzes me. In our culture, this is not done. I cried at first alone in my cabin. And then I learned. We can hardly do otherwise. We must learn to know, to respect, when you have your own customs or ways to live differently. One is forced to get used to living together: no escape, not even possible to do things differently in this floating prison.

So we have to get to know each other, and even end up enjoying each other! At the beginning I would have thought it was impossible. It is a kind of small monastery, you know, to live on top of each other without a lot of personal space, and all doing the same job: each must do his best so that the ship remains secure, and take us safe into port. This is what it means to be on board the same ship! I remember one time when I went into the country at home, I went to visit a cousin who is a monk. I was very young at the time, and it seemed an impossible life, to live so shut up in a monastery. My cousin told me, smiling broadly that he chose his monastery, that the brothers of the monastery had become his own brothers, that he was leading a balanced and healthy life, close to nature, in the sight of God. I have often thought about his ideas, since I started life at sea. The long nights of watch promote meditation. I have thought that our community on the ship looked like a kind of a special little monastery. Even more special, because none of us chose the others. I had no idea of the nationality of the other crew members when I signed my contract in the offices of the crewing company in Manila; almost all of us are married, but forced to live alone; we all left our families for six- to nine-month contracts. And in case of tension between us, the cloister of the ship is much stricter than the monastery of my cousin. And then, you know, for security reasons, we are on a “dry” boat: no alcohol on board…But a beer would do us good, some nights. So I began to think that in the end, life on the ship was much more severe than that chosen by my cousin the monk…Francis, if you will come to do an inspection of your monasteries, you could visit us too and give us some advice to encourage our life on board. I think our rules on board are much like those that you wrote, that your brothers are still practicing in communities all over the world.

Except for religion. It’s not that we are not believers, no! On the contrary, seafarers, when confronted with the reality of the elements, you know, none pretends to be self-assured. All feel so small as mere toys in the hands of the immense forces of nature and of God. Like everyone else, you might tell me. Except that we feel it stronger than many others, when a ship that looks so imposing and powerful, vibrates and groans under the blows of the waves and the elements. We already suffered a big storm in the Pacific: no need to go clubbing like young people after this—the pounding of the waves was better than the bass of music at a club! But here we also have our rules, which are strong, even if they are not written: everyone keeps to himself on religious or political opinions. This is the price that the crew pays to remain united and so that the ship and all it is carrying, can reach its destination safely.

This is only my second long contract, on two different vessels, for two different companies, yet on each ship where the Community rule is respected (and it still is, that I promise!) there is not a common room (in both the mess and the recreation rooms) where we do not find a religious image: that of Jesus the pilot, which helps mariners navigate (How many times have I asked Jesus in my prayer, that He is the best pilot of my whole life?…), or icons of the Holy Virgin. Even on the bridge just behind the place where we put the maps, in the space where you can make coffee, there is an icon. It comes from the Orthodox tradition. Nobody knows who put it there, but it is certain that no one has wanted to remove it. We do not know who put it there or since when or for what reason, but in its place it seems just as useful as the world maps that are stored in the unit beside.

During my previous contract, we lived the drama on board of one of the officers dying suddenly, of a heart attack. We still had to travel three days to reach a port. Can you imagine, Francis, three days of travel with a dead body? The captain told us to put the body in one of the cold rooms on the ship. And us, we had to continue working to ensure the ship was moving, with our companion, down there… Then someone, I forget who, suggested to mark the occasion, to do something, even if we were not experts in religion. After dinner one night, we ended up in the mess for a time of prayer. I should write prayers, plural. Because we were from different churches. And even different religions. I do not know how good our prayers were, we were not experts. It was quite awkward, I think, but we put our heart into it, that’s for sure. Several sailors were from India. I do not know their religion very well, or rather religions. I only remember that we were together to offer those few minutes to our brother, a Russian officer. In respect for each other. Some did not come. It was well known that some crew members did not have much interest in religion. Was I surprised by their absence? I do not know. I just stuck to the rule of the ship: respect the religious freedom of everyone.

It reminded me that you went to see the Sultan. In Tunis, I think. You know a little about what it is to live with different religions. You see, we live this communion each day in sailing in the difference in each other.

Worry remains inside me, endlessly. It torments me every moment. Not for a second, do I forget my wife, our baby. At work, during meals, when I go on or off shift or when I try to sleep—it’s been hard for me to sleep for the last several days…Tonight I look at my hands. Hands that, hopefully, will soon hold my child. Yesterday we had a big job on the engine. I hardly recognize my hands, as they are still marked by work. Hands dirty from sludge—should be several days more before they return to normal. I seem to remember that your hands were marked by the stigmata, traces of your union with Jesus. I’m here, so far from my family, but it is for my wife and child that I endure this life. Then I look at the scars of sludge on my hands. They are almost an indelible mark of the relationship with my wife, my child, that I carry with me every moment.

I note with surprise how these lines that I pushed myself to write, to write to you, now soothe me. Frankly, I am no longer forcing myself to write now. I enjoy it. Last night I was on the bridge. Fortunately, in the Pacific, marine traffic is not heavy, given the vastness of the ocean. I had to report only one other ship during my shift. We were as alone in the world, as the ocean is wide. So I could open myself to the spectacle of the ocean safely without being as preoccupied about potential dangers for the ship. I could contemplate the colors of sea and sky that met each other. These are colors that carry you off. They carried me far, far away…but not only to the Philippines, home to Iloilo, no. They took me elsewhere. It’s hard to explain, you know. I remembered your song, the one where you sing about creation. I only know bits: “Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day through whom you give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, Of You Most High, he bears the likeness. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, In the heavens you have made them bright, precious, and fair. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods, by which You cherish all that You have made…Praised be You my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth…” Well, you said it, you prayed it much better than I could… And then something happened in me. I believe, a kind of peace came over me, despite the storms of the ocean and in the life of my child. Or perhaps beyond the storms. I love the sea, even though I hate the waves and swell. Yes, praised be Lord who never abandons us, when the night is too dark, or when the swell is too strong…

That night, I took the time to write, time to write to you. And suddenly I had an odd thought: perhaps is it you who are telling me what I should write, and these words are more yours than mine. Perhaps they are your answer to my distress, your response at the human level, near to the heart of our isolation…

It seems that we are going to stop in Marseille. I stopped there also during my previous contract. I read Alexandre Dumas long ago. So, I was very excited to see for myself the Chateau d’If. To see it was to unite my imagination and reality. But the reality, when I could saw the silhouette of the castle, has not actually done away with the wonder of it. We couldn’t visit the Chateau d’If, our stop was too short and too busy to allow us a tourist trip.

I could also appreciate another view, that of a church perched on a narrow hill overlooking the city of Marseille, which seems to protect it. Rather it is the view of the Virgin Mary, who is at the top of the church that protects the city. And perhaps we sailors too might get a chance to go to her feet. When we entered the port, it seemed to me—no, it is not a hypothesis but a conviction, a certainty—that many times the pilot who guided us looked up at her as if he went under her protection, as if he was praying, as if it was she who guided our ship. I seem to remember in your biography that you’ve also written some prayers to the Virgin. Perhaps like you, Saint Mary is also a saint at our height. So too, when we go to the port of Marseille, I will entrust to her my child, as I now have done to you. Is it not you, the two of you, Mary and Francis, who can do wonders?

Francis, I realize that I did not introduce myself: my name Jovin Omero. I had an uncle who was also a seafarer. Was it because of his example that I decided to follow this path? I am not sure. You know, at home, maritime schools always advertise to get us to enroll with them. They tell us: “Become sailor to visit the world and earn dollars.” The world and dollars were advertised, but no one spoke of the years of struggling in Manila to get a contract, the short stopovers in ports, the many modern ports far away from cities, the loneliness and homesickness, and a stomach knotted with worry for my future child…But I do not regret the life I’ve ended up choosing, although my dreams always carry me home.

Why did I decide to write to you, Francis? What intuition led me to it? Maybe this one: Brother Francis, could you be the little brother of all seafarers?

by  Arnaud de Boisseau,  May 2016.

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-54-04-am(Translated by Jason Zuidema. Original French text in: François d’Assise et Marseille, ed. Mgr Jean-Marc Aveline, Auxiliary bishop of Marseille, Institut Catholique de la Mediteranée, 2016. Used with permission.)

For other writings by Fr. Arnaud de Boisseau, see Marins: Lettres de la mer et paroles de la terre.  With Fr. Roland Doriol.  Marines éditions, 2014.