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First Reading: Wisdom 14:1-7
Psalm 106: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Response: "Trust in the Lord, for his Mercy endures forever"
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
It seems like only yesterday that we gathered for this annual celebration. I wonder how many containers have crisscrossed the ocean waves over the past twelve months – it is in the billions.
I recognize Sr. Myrna Tordillo, National Director of the AOS, and her office for planning the details of this annual celebration. Welcome in a special way to Captain George McShea, President of AOS-USA. One of his responsibilities is the Cruise Ship Program and other related matters that pertain to sea families. Also present is Mrs. Karen Parsons, Port Chaplain for Galveston and recently appointed by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People as the Regional Coordinator for North America and the Caribbean. Monsignor Rossi and the staff of the National Shrine for their excellent cooperation in celebrating this annual event. Also, Father Michael Weston, Master of Ceremonies, and the music ministers and the altar servers.
Why do we have this annual day of remembrance for seafarers? Do we have such a day for airline pilots or truck drivers who are on the road day and night? These professions are noble and essential to the life blood of our nation but seafarers are very special. What are some of these qualities?
Marco Polo wrote that the man who goes out to sea is a man in despair. Today’s seafarers are both men and women. Today’s seafarer is also probably poor and exploited, and his life is one of overwork and chronic fatigue.
The author Rose George wrote a splendid book with a title that says it all: Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry that “Puts Clothes on your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate".
The work of the seafarer in many respects is invisible – people never see the seafarer or his work. The public media reports the time schedule for the comings and goings of the freighters, oil tankers and container ships, etc., etc. The rest is hidden.
The following is an interesting observation. When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing with 12 crew members and 227 passengers, the airwaves were reporting on the matter day and night for weeks on end. There was a never ending stream of commentary even to the point that we got tired and aggravated about the whole affair. Many nations came together, shared resources and every effort was made to locate the missing aircraft. To date, no success.
On the other hand, how many remember what happened in the days before Christmas five years ago? The cargo freighter Danny F II approached the port of Tripoli en route from Uruguay to Syria. This freighter carried 18,000 cattle, 10,000 sheep, and 83 human persons. Ships like these bring us 95% of everything we consume.This annual Mass is an opportunity for the Church to officially recognize the sacrificial lifestyle of seafarers throughout the world and their contributions to the welfare of the social order.
Eleven miles from Tripoli, in stormy weathers the Danny F II capsized. 43 men died, including the captain. Their number was added to the estimated 2,000 who lose their lives annually. The sea was filled with drowning animals. The year was 2009 – 5 years ago. In this time period 35 other ships have not made it home.
Why were there no headlines? Who knows? Perhaps indifference, or we take for granted our access to the goods of the world, not realizing that these goods come for us at a price which is beyond our human experience.
The Book of Wisdom, written about 100 years before Christ, says “But your providence, O Father! guides it, for you have furnished even in the sea a road, and through the waves a steady path, showing that you can save from any danger, so that even one without skill may embark”.
The demands and challenges of sea commerce are gigantic. The answers are complex. No matter the solution, the seafarer is essential to all solutions. History demonstrates that he has been exploited. Rose George summarizes it as follows:
"When something goes wrong at sea, a seafarer has nowhere to turn. 'A land based person would have national jurisdiction,' says Deirdra Fitzpatrick of the ITF. 'I’m in the UK, my problem is here, and I know where to go for help. If you are a Fillipino or a Panamanian flagged ship traveling from South Africa to the Netherlands, what law is going to govern you? You are a total moving target'”.
This annual Mass is the opportunity for the Church to officially recognize the sacrificial lifestyle of seafarers throughout the world and their contributions to the welfare of the social order. This day also provides the opportunity to influence the infrastructure that all agencies involved with seafaring make every effort to ensure that justice prevails for all. Justice in wages, working conditions, health benefits, vacations, opportunities to worship, and, when difficulties arise, that they are properly represented at the bargaining table.
Our Lady, Star of the Sea is the Patroness of the highways of the Ocean. To recognize and emphasize her importance, AOS-USA is sponsoring an effort for the installation of a Roundel depicting Our Lady, Star of the Sea in this Basilica Church. It is presently being crafted in Italy and will be installed above one of the primary doors of this Basilica. This ceremony could take place within the coming year.
This is a day of remembrance. There is no better source of consolation and guidance than the prayer to Our Lady, Star of the Sea.
Hence I conclude this Homily with such a prayer:
Star of the Sea, Great Mother of God and Our Mother, you know all dangers of soul and body that threaten seafarers.
Protect your sons and daughters who sail the seas, and protect also their families that await their return.
Star of the Sea, Mother of the Church, give light and strength to those priests and laypersons who bring the love of your Divine Son among seafarers.
Fill their hearts with a supernatural and life giving zeal for the apostolate.
Star of the Sea, light shining in the darkness, be a guide to those who sail amid the storms and dangers of life.
Stir up in their midst the hearts of ardent apostles and bring us all to the safety of heaven’s port.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on all those who sail the seas.
O, Star of the Sea, help and protect us from the danger of hurricanes and floods and all perils of nature.
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