BY CINDY WOODEN, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
ARCHBISHOP Agostino Marchetto knows the Swiss yacht Alinghi was leading the America's Cup battle against Team New Zealand 3-0 when the fourth race was postponed February 19 because of the weather.
The archbishop, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, is not just one of the growing fans of international sailing regattas like the America's Cup. He has a new pastoral interest in the sailors, their families and support crew.
So, for the first time, he has found himself scanning the newspapers daily for results of the America's Cup event, which will end by early March when either Alinghi or Team New Zealand has won five races.
Through the Apostleship of the Sea and its Stella Mans centres for seafarers, the Vatican has a long history of providing pastoral care and social services to maritime workers and fishers.
Over the past decade, the council also has intensified efforts to meet the spiritual needs of those who work on cruise ships.
During the 2002-2003 regatta season, the Vatican set its sights on professional yachters for the first time, The pastoral outreach project involved a period of quiet research and contacts, followed by media exposure and travel, then back to quiet study and contacts.
Archbishop Marchetto said informing the press of the initiative and seeking publicity for it was an exceptional strategy aimed at garnering attention from professional yachters.
Now the council is working less publicly again, contacting national directors of the Apos
tleship of the Sea and the Stella Mans centres to assess the needs and possibilities for pastoral work among yachters.
In fact, Fr Gerard Tronche, who was in New Zealand from January 11-22 for the Louis Vuitton Cup races to choose the challenger to America's Cup holder Team New Zealand, is no longer giving media interviews. Fr Tronche went to New Zealand with Ludovico Massimo Lancellotti, a member of an old Roman noble family, who already had some contacts in the yachting world, Archbishop Marchetto said.
The two were on hand to see Alinghi beat the American yacht Oracle on January 19, winning the Louis Vuitton Cup and the right to sail in the America's Cup. But they left New Zealand before the big race began.
That too, Archbishop Marchetto said, was part of the plan. The council is not responsible for pastoral outreach in the field of sports, but to those who live and work on the seas. Using a decidedly landlocked metaphor, Archbishop Marchetto said the purpose of the trip was to drill for a core sample of the field, rather than to begin excavation.
More than 2,500 maritime people, including racers and their families, spent up to 18 months in Auckland preparing for the October-January Louis Vuitton races and the America's Cup. The council said tens of thousands of men and women are employed in recreational and professional yachting around the world.
As in Auckland, many of the Catholics among them find a local parish for Mass; most know nothing of the Apostleship of the Sea.
While their involvement in parishes is praiseworthy, Archbishop Marchetto said, the council's task is to be a sign of pastoral love and to be with people where they are, whether it is a grubby port or a sleek marina.
"One of the difficulties we faced from the beginning was a reasonable question about 'the preferential option for the poor and putting resources into the pastoral care of yachters." he said.
"But the church's obligation to care first of all for the poor does not exclude others," the archbishop said. "We are sent to everyone."
"The Church", he said, "is called to help people have a Christian approach and attitude to life, to find the Lord even within the world of sport sailing."