By I. J. FAWCETIf
SM-I...ORS are among the world's loneliest men. They will tell you that the sea is company, that there is among them a rare degree of comradeship. and some will jokingly remind you that a sailor "has a girl in every port".
But the sea is a vast, untamed, moody friend: shipboard compitny is one not of choosing, but of circumstance; and decent society ashore is self-protective and tends to preclude the man from the sea who will come, stay a while, and then go.
Those who make the sea their life, and take their living on it or from it, are men who are near to nature, and being nearer to nature than most, they are often nearer to God. There is an awareness of God among seafarers that goes far beyond that of their brothers whose lives are spent on the dry, safe land.
Among these lonely, Godfearing men, cut off as they are for long periods from normal contact with priest or pastor, there was an obvious work for the Church to do. In recent years this work has been done through the Apostleship of the Sea, an organisation whose aims could not better be described than in the words of the theme of this week's congress at Liverpool . . "The Church face to face with the needs of the Maritime World".
The Church has, of course, always been interested in the welfare of those who go to sea. Christ preached to fishermen on the Sea of Galilee and no one could read the Epistles of St. Paul without being conscious of 'the fire of his apostolate to seafarers.
There was also St. Brendan the Navigator: and the thousands of nameless priests and lay apostles who carried the Faith of Christ across the seas of the world and made the quarterdeck a saluting base because of the Crucifix which always hung there.
At a thousand ports. and in the fishing harbours around the coasts of Europe and the Americas, there have always been men who have prayed for and worked for those who earned their living in hazardous sea-going. Seen by men. these were localised unconnected endeavours; seen by God they were always a unity.
It was for this other, practical unity that the Apostleship came into being. As new continents were opened and the shipping lanes became the arteries of the world, as those who fished were embraced into a huge. important industry. then it became necessary that the Catholic Church made some unified approach to the problems of the men involved.
Although credit for the beginnings of the world-wide Apostleship of the Sea organisation must he given to a group of enthusiasts. one member of that group should be singled out for
special mention. He is Peter Anson, now a well-known writer.
But in 1920 when he was "Brother Richard", an Oblate of the Benedictines of Caldey, he took the constitutions of the present Apostleship to Rome and in 1922 had them approved and blessed by Pope Pius Xl.
In March, 1928, in conjunction with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul the -Council of the Apostleship of the Sea" was formed: in 1952 as a result of a Papal. Constitution the Apostleship ceased to he a society helping in the work of the Church hut became a part of the pastoral structure of the Church itself.
In the process of these yehrs and events, the Apostleship of the Sea grew from being in its early days an apostolate directing all its energies tOwards the spiritual welfare of Catholic seamen—attempting to form them into a "society of prayer", seeking them out from their nonCatholic shipmates, encouraging them in the use of the Sacraments and bringing them to Mass—to being something much wider and more comprehensive in its scope.
Whilst it retained its hold on the immediate spiritual needs of Catholic seafarers it looked beyond to the whole way of life of the seafaring world. The seafarers of the world—all of them — with their moral, social, and material as well as spiritual problems--became the concern of the A.O.S.
To go hack to the theme of this Liverpool Congress, the Apostleship represents "The Church face to face with the needs of the Maritime World".
In Liverpool. half-way up the hill which is Hardman Street. a red sign sticks out to show the location of Atlantic House. On Barking Road in London the sign is white and it spells out Anchor House. In Hamburg there is no sign. but the building reaches up six storeys high.
In Amsterdam, on a more modest building. the words Stella Mans. Centro Marinero Seemannsheim contain a Message of sienilicance to seamen. There are other buildings in Palermo, Savona, Durban, just to mention a few. and nearer home in Hull, South Shields, Birkenhead and soon a new one in Salford. These are the concrete evidence of the work of the A postleship.
"Could you tell me where Atlantic House is?" I asked the porter at a Liverpool railway station. "First left, then bear right, then left", he said. And as I moved away, as if it was the most obvious question in the world . . . "what ship are you off. mate?"
If you wanted Atlantic House, you had to be a seaman, And if. on that same Liverpool station, I had said I was a sailor and wanted a bed for a night, someone to talk to, a place to sort out a family problem, or a girl to dance with, I know I would have been told . . . "first left. bear right, then left".
Beside the bar in this largest A.O.S. club in the world I met a young man from India who was Christian but not Catholic. and an older man who was a Scot, a Catholic (and a hater of "dirty, dreary, damned Liverpool"). There was a woman waiting for her husband's ship to come in and an African iesho asked if it never 'stopped raining in England,
"We never ask people what their religion is". said Fr. Francis Fraync, senior chaplain of Atlantic House and vice national director of the A.O.S. for England and Wales. "We are just here to help."
What sort of help do you give? I asked him. He told of the 115 beds that were available for men at Atlantic House, the family suites where a seaman can be with his wife and children. the guild of seafarers' wives, the awkward problems that have to be sorted out between those whose work at sea takes them away for long periods and whose marriages are subjected to unusual strain.
There were such jobs as providing hostesses for the men to dance with (there are 300 hostesses on the list . . . "they must go home alone• . .). ship visiting, contact work with nonCatholics. and just being there for the thousand-and-one things that a man may need in a strange city. There was also the matter of spiritual guidance.
A clue to the understanding that this priest brings to his work came when he told site he was an ex-RAF navigator and that one of his assistant chaplains had served in the Fleet Air Arm. He had little time to talk to "the press" . . he did not say so, but he conveyed the feeling that there was other more important work waitinga to he done.
In the eighty-odd centres of the Apostleship in some 17 countries around the world there are other men like Fr. Frayne and Peter Anson, too busy. or too modest. to talk about what they do. Two hundred of them will be in Liverpool this week for the Congress which will guide their future efforts and seek to "bring the Church face to face with the needs of the Maritime World".