Pandemic and safeguarding ports affect the Catholic Church’s ministry to maritime crews
For years, maritime crews flocking to the Stella Maris Crew Center and Chapel were greeted by a sign depicting Mary, proclaiming “Mass — Quiet Time — Relax/Free: Wi-Fi, Coffee and Cookies.”
Now the sign pointing to a safe harbor for thousands of sailors and hospitality workers around the world sits behind locked gates at the Port of Los Angeles World Cruise Center in San Pedro.
Its upholstered sofas are empty. Her care kits containing onboard necessities, from warm socks to shampoo to rosaries, remain unattended. Her coffee machine, cold despite two Holland America and Princess ships recently tied to a dock outside her large windows.
And its Stella Maris Chapel – a sanctuary for sailors around the world who once eagerly received the Holy Eucharist after days, weeks or months at sea – stands empty.
“Normally we would have 40 to 50 people in our chapel on these two cruise ships,” said Father Maurice Harrigan, pastor of nearby Mary Star of the Sea Church and its maritime offshoot at Pier 93.
“And now – zero. They are not allowed to leave their ships. It’s a huge problem, for them and for us. They want to be served; we want to serve them. But we can’t do anything,” he told the Angelus, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ online media outlet.
The San Pedro Chapel slump comes as cruise lines, stalled during the COVID-19 contagion, restarted their engines this fall for world tours.
It also coincides with a global supply chain safeguard that has clogged the country’s busiest container port, with up to 100 merchant ships idling offshore waiting to unload their cargoes.
With so many ships swirling around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, it’s not quite clear why thousands of their Catholic sailors weren’t able to access the Stella Maris Crew Center and Chapel.
Since ancient times, Stella Maris – the Latin title for Our Lady, Star of the Sea – has been their guiding star and the beacon of historic Mary Star of the Sea Parish, its 80-year-old maritime ministry and its parish. priest.
Mary Star of the Sea Church, founded in 1889 on a hill overlooking the Port of Los Angeles, has been dubbed the “Fisherman’s Parish” for its ties to the once-thriving fishing and canning industries.
A shining Mother Mary has stood atop its tall bell tower for decades, thanks in large part to Croatian and Italian fishermen who dedicated part of their daily catch to pay for the 10-foot bronze statue.
His welcome with open arms extended to the thousands of sailors and ship’s crews passing through the Port of Los Angeles past Angel’s Gate.
Stella Maris Chapel is an outgrowth of the parish linked to the Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic organization that supports needy seafarers around the world.
For decades, a Mary Star of the Sea priest led daily mass at the chapel and offered pastoral counsel, including communion. Ships’ crews, mostly foreigners, on shore leave were also helped to get to medical appointments and travel to their respective consulates.
When they weren’t attending church in a small alcove out back, dozens of men and women hung out in the living room, logging on to his computers, leafing through his library, picking up Amazon deliveries or receiving care packages containing hygiene kits, prayer books and more, assembled by local Catholic Daughters of the Americas volunteers.
Until the contagion of COVID-19, the Stella Maris Crew Center and Chapel welcomed up to 4,000 sailors a year, a majority from visiting cruise ships, many of whom were from the Philippines, Southeast Asia and South India, Fr. Harrigan said.
The chapel was closed in March 2020 during a public health order prohibiting indoor worship during the pandemic. Her former chaplain, Father Freddie Chua, is now pastor of the Church of the Annunciation in Arcadia, California.
Even with relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and increased cruise and cargo ship traffic, church officials said worshipers could not return. In fact, they simply disappeared.
“It was in limbo,” said Nicholas Vilicich, sexton of Mary Star of the Sea, who once helped shuttle crews in a church van designated for Stella Maris. “The crews cannot get off the ship – at all. We cannot board the boats. It is a great loss for the crew members who need our help.
For decades, foreign-born crew on ships docking in US ports could simply apply for a shore leave visa and leave. Then came the pandemic, when safety protocols stranded more than 200,000 sailors at sea for months. Now, some crew are being granted shore leave at various ports, including Los Angeles.
But Father Harrigan, who replaced Father Chua as Stella Maris Chapel chaplain, was puzzled as to why cruise ship crews were not showing up at Stella Maris. The chapel is open once a week until their return.
He said he was told by a Princess Cruises commissioner that federal customs officers were banning shore leave due to fears that crews from certain countries could leave the ship. US customs said that was not the case.
“We haven’t made any port-wide changes regarding shore passes,” Jaime Ruiz, branch manager for strategic media engagement for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement. e-mail to the Angelus. “Last time I checked, there were over 600 shore passes. I suspect volume will increase as port congestion eases and cruise lines resume full operations.
He said CBP officers are conducting interviews and risk assessments of crew members with valid visas and passports to determine if a shore pass should be granted. The agency also grants leave under special circumstances to crew members who are not eligible for a shore pass, such as a need for medical attention.
He said he suspected the dwindling number of Stella Maris attendees could be largely attributed to the pause in cruise ship operations over the past year, given that a cruise ship can have more than 1,600 crew members compared to a container ship which typically has around 20 crew members.
“Cruise ship arrivals have picked up over the past two months,” Ruiz said, “but we’re still not at pre-COVID volume.”
“We have received requests from carriers, cruise ships and ship captains to deny shore passes,” he said. “However, we still issue the shore pass based on the aforementioned risk assessment and not based on an industry request.”
Holland America, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Carnival Corporation & plc, did not return calls. A spokeswoman for Princess Cruises, also a subsidiary of Carnival, said that from time to time, due to operations, compliance or safety considerations, shore leave may not be available.
A Carnival Corporation spokesperson said in an email that it had conducted preliminary checks and “it appears that our crew members are taking shore leave” in Los Angeles.
But according to the Sea Me Crew Foundation, a non-profit advocacy and support group for global crew members based in Vancouver, British Columbia, it has been very erratic about who can leave a ship and who cannot. does not, depending on the ship and the port. stopover, as well as the number of COVID-19 cases on board.
“To my knowledge, (Princess) doesn’t let crew go to LA,” said Krista Thomas, founding president of the foundation, which has 60,000 crew members on Facebook. “I haven’t heard of anyone coming down to LA lately.”
Meanwhile, Father Harrigan said he was working with Princess Cruises officials so he could provide service to sailors on deck with their ships in port.
“These people have a very difficult life, being sailors,” said Father Harrigan, 58, a Glendale native who left the business world after feeling the call to the priesthood. “And it was particularly difficult for us to serve them. Aboard the ship, they don’t have Wi-Fi, comfy couches, widescreen TVs, things we all take for granted.
“I am very sad, upset. I wish we could serve our people,” he said. “Those we serve cannot come to adore – to receive Mass, one of the sacraments. … They are spiritually starving.
Bartholomew writes for Angelus, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ online media.
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