Stella Maris Seafarers’ Center, Lake Charles and the Deaconate Ministry
I am Deacon Patrick Lapoint, a married permanent deacon for the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana. I have served as Director of the Stella Maris Seafarers’ Center in Lake Charles for over ten years. Stella Maris is Latin for Star of the Sea. The Stella Maris Seafarers ministry is the Catholic maritime ministry also known as Apostleship of the Sea (AOS).
In my ministry to the people of the sea, God has given me great joy and peace in meeting and serving his people through seafarers from around the world who visit the Port of Lake Charles. This year, we celebrate fifty years of ministry in Lake Charles. The ministry started with Fr. Theodore Hassink as the first port chaplain in the late 1950’s who ministered from his car and home. The center began operations in 1962 with Mr. Herman Verkurissen as the first director. The current port chaplain is Fr. Rommel Tolentino. We are assisted by two paid employees and three volunteers. One of the volunteers is my wife Sandra.
God blesses me every day by letting me meet his Son Jesus Christ through the encounter with the seafarers. Ministering to seafarers has great meaning. It is a ministry about giving of oneself for the benefit of others who are strangers to our country and our community. It is about being in the moment and sharing with a seafarer in the joy of being in contact with and also seeing his or her family through the internet or celebrating with a seafarer father as he sees his new born child online. It is being with a seafarer through sorrow in learning that a loved one has died. It is a ministry of presence with the seafarers when there is a situation on board that requires the involvement of proper authorities to resolve the situation. It is a ministry of listening when a seafarer vents frustration from being away from home for six to ten months at a time or of loneliness when a married seafarer is faced with temptation but overcomes by staying true to the wedding vows.
As a deacon, there are few challenges that I am faced with but relatively there is no stress. One of the challenges that I am faced with is balancing time among the ministries that I am involved with. To help me with this challenge is my wife Sandra. She monitors the time that I spend at home, at the Seafarers’ Center, at the parish and in my other assignments. She is the first to inform me when the balance scale is tilting out of balance. Our marriage is on one side of the scale and everything else is on the other side. As a married deacon it is so important have Sandra involved in the ministries alongside with me. She not only helps me out physically but spiritually. She proof reads all my homilies and she helps at the Seafarers’ Center when she is not working her day job. The maritime ministry fits the deaconate perfectly as it is a ministry of service.
I praise God for leading me to this ministry of the deaconate and the Apostleship of the Sea. I thank our Blessed Mother Mary for her intercessions because it was through making rosary beads that I crossed paths with the Seafarers’ Center in the first place.
The Stella Maris Seafarers’ Center is conveniently located in the Lake Charles port area, but is outside the security perimeter. It has a small chapel, computers, free Wi-Fi, telephone banks, a recreation room with billiard tables, a snack bar, phone cards and a library. The Center has a van that transports seafarers to business centers. A priest celebrates Catholic Mass every Thursday.
I am a Seafarer’s Wife
My name is Christine. I am a high school teacher that has been teaching for 15 years at a company’s private school in the Philippines. I am married to a seafarer named Samie who has been working in cargo ships and seafaring for over fifteen years. We have three daughters. The eldest is ten years old, the middle one is eight years old and the youngest is two. Our two oldest girls both attend school where I teach while our youngest daughter stays at home with a nanny. I am proud to share that our two girls are consistent honor roll students in school. In fact, this year, my eldest is the top student of her class!
In so many ways, I can describe my husband as an ideal, gifted, generous man who generally has a very positive approach to life. However, like many other men who have responsibilities, often he is not able to draw the line between work and family. Through his authoritative nature, he has had a tendency to treat everyone at home like members of his crew. This could partly be attributed to a rigid schedule, responsibilities and a stressful environment while on board ship where he has had to adapt to working and living conditions with a multi-lingual crew. As a wife, I sometimes have a hard time trying to be patient and understanding. Nevertheless, I accept his imperfections and faithfully support him.
Our journey as a couple has not been a bed of roses. However, we constantly make adjustments and try to reflect on our misunderstandings in order to improve our relationship. We argue on some issues but we still manage to patch things up and learn to love each other more.
Whenever Samie is away seafaring, our relationship is bound by the distance of both land and sea. During the three times that I gave birth to our girls, my husband was on board ship on the high seas. My only consolation was that he would call me to check on my condition. Still, Samie’s absence during my labor pains and post natal blues was truly depressing. I am sure wives and mothers who experience similar situations like mine can agree with me that juggling between raising children single-handedly and being a working mom is really a gigantic task! I recall the time that our eldest daughter was brought to the hospital due to convulsion and seizure and my husband was not around to watch over her. I was by myself but I kept my faith alive.
I may not be perfect but I am trying everything possible to be the best wife and mother to our children. Through all of this, I would be self-centered if I only looked at my own sacrifices. I know that my husband has his share of sacrifices and frustrations as a result of not being around during many trying times. He has shared how helpless he felt for not being able to give me an emotional lift and I truly empathize with my husband’s situation.
His every departure is a painful moment. Soon he will have to leave again for another nine months or more to earn a living and this is when another reality hits hard. What keeps our marriage more meaningful are the joys and sorrows we share. We have just celebrated our tenth year wedding anniversary and we hope to count many, many more years TOGETHER....
Fr. Tony Haycock and the Tug that Couldn’t Go
In November 2011, the Catholic Seafarers’ Center of Seattle, WA got word that a Tug was at Pier 91 behind a locked fence with the crew still on board. Some of the crew members had just been flown in from Nicaragua and Honduras and none of the crew had visas to allow them to go ashore.
The owner had bought the old Tug, which at one point, had been tied up many years on Lake Union by a Tug company. He had some work done on the engine but his captain and chief engineer said they wouldn’t risk sailing the Tug. The Coastguard was aware of the problem and stated that the Tug was not seaworthy. It seemed more work was needed which was eventually carried out by the engineers onboard. Subsequently, I spent the next few weeks shopping for the Captain and crew.
The crew named me their “Salvador.” They had not been paid for two weeks and as a result, some of the crew decided to go home. I took the captain and chief engineer and one other crew member straight to Customs and Immigration to retrieve their passports which had been confiscated. This was with the promise to take them straight to SEA-TAC Airport and give them the flight tickets their wives had purchased and sent through the Seafarers’ Center.
Meanwhile, staff at the Seafarers’ Center were still looking after the other four seafarers onboard with food and drinks to supplement the meager rations of the Tug owner. A new captain was onboard, he was a diabetic and needed insulin daily. I was able to get a doctor’s certificate for him and the needles and blood pressure monitor which he used twice a day.
On Christmas Day I celebrated Mass onboard with the crew and blessed the Tug. The cook had provided a fine meal and I brought a large dessert cake and Christmas gifts for each of the crew. The new captain was grateful for the new G.P.S. I brought him and wool hats and pullovers for the crew. We even sang some Spanish songs with them!
It was the New Year before the owner had the funds and the paperwork to get the Tug to Mexico. The Coastguard gave a waiver to leave. The crew had been confined on board on a small, restricted dock for five weeks. I walked with the owner to the end of Pier 91 to wave goodbye as the Tug steamed past with blue and black smoke pumping and the crew waving.
The crew called me from Mexico. Most of them were flying home from there as they were paid a portion of what they were owed! Another promise of a seafaring job which the seafarers grabbed for their families back home but which never fulfilled the hopes they had.
Fr. Tony Haycock is Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) chaplain since 1992 for the Archdiocese of Seattle. For more information about the Catholic Seafarers’ Center, please visit: www.catholicseafarercenter.org
Twenty-Seven Years in the AOS Ministry
By Karen M. Parsons, OFS
On April 20, 1985, I was commissioned as an Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) minister in the Port of Detroit, Michigan. It was the beginning of a long career in maritime ministry in which I met tens of thousands of seafarers from countries all over the world. Right from the beginning, I made correspondence part of my ministry because I admired the way St. Paul never abandoned the churches he established by writing to them to encourage, admonish and help them to remain faithful. Over the 27 years of my ministry to the People of the Sea, I have written an estimated 20,000 letters to seafarers and their families.
I transferred to the Port of Galveston, Texas in 1992 and have been working here and in the Port of Texas City, Texas ever since. The day to day visiting of the ships is never dull. I love going out to the docks and discovering who is in port visiting us each day. The challenge of assessing the needs of the crews, helping them with their problems, getting them in contact with their families and listening to their concerns is a constant.
Seafarers on a ship are on for months at a time. Real life happens for them even though they are far from home. Children are born, family members die, there are personal conflicts with shipmates, work hazards, illness or injury. Whenever anything out of the normal routine happens it is good for an AOS chaplain to be there to listen, assist and aid.
Galveston is a barrier island about two miles off the coast of Texas. Whenever a seafarer becomes ill or is injured aboard his/her ship in the Gulf of Mexico, many times they are airlifted by the US Coast Guard to our Galveston hospital. So then, besides visiting the ships in port on a given day, I also visit the seafarers in the hospital. I become their family away from home, their advocate in care, their confidant, and always make sure they are able to contact their family.
Over the years I have had the blessing of visiting some of the seafarers I write to and their families in their homes around the world. I have visited seafarers and their families in the Philippines, Russia, Poland, Germany, and Italy. It is wonderful to see the family side of the life of a seafarer. It gives me the whole picture of who they are and why I love to serve them in this ministry.
Twenty-seven years ago I was searching for a way to serve God in our Church. I read a small invitation in our parish bulletin one Sunday, asking for volunteers to help in the AOS ministry in Detroit. Little did I know that God was calling me to a much bigger role when I first went to the introduction meeting at All Saints Parish. What a blessing! I am grateful.
Get ‘Em While They’re Young!
By Fr. Sinclair Oubre, J.C.L.
In the 1990's, Msgr. Jim Dillenburg was stationed at the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in Rome. He was part of an effort by the pontifical council to develop extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) on board ships. In 1997, Blessed John Paul II incorporated this initiative in his Motu proprio Stella Maris.
In section 3, paragraphs 5, our Holy Father wrote:
“5. The chaplain of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate must identify among maritime personnel those who have a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and train them so that they can be appointed, by the competent authority, as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and be able to exercise this ministry with dignity, especially on board ships.”
Though efforts were made at the 1992 AOS World Congress and by AOS-USA’s predecessor, the National Catholic Conference for Seafarers to develop training materials and reach out to Catholic mariners to become EMHC’s, the efforts bore little fruit. In retrospect, two challenges could never be overcome. First, the port chaplain, maritime deacon, religious or lay ecclesial minister had to identify potential Catholic spiritual leaders among visiting crew members in the 24 to 36 hours they were in port. If one could be identified, the second challenge arose, how to give proper catechesis to the mariner so that a request could be made to his or her competent authority to depute him or her as an EMHC.
The port ministers’ window of opportunity was just not enough to bring to reality this wonderful benefit that Blessed John Paul II had given the maritime world. To be effective, the identification and preparation needed to take place in their home countries, especially while they were in their home parish or in maritime school.
I recall this bit of history because we face a similar challenge among US mariners. A second engineer and graduate from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy asked as I drove him back to the ship, “Who are you guys?”
Though he graduated from an US maritime academy with a long history of pastoral care by the local parish priest, he had never heard of the Apostleship of the Sea, or knew what seafarers’ centers or missions were.
This is why my recent meeting with Basil Alkoussan is so exciting. Basil is a cadet at the Texas Maritime Academy in Galveston and has been elected by his peers to be the Corp Chaplain. Basil is very interested in developing an active pastoral care especially while his fellow cadets are on their summer cruises.
During our visit, it became apparent that Basil was not familiar with maritime ministry or seafarer welfare centers. However, with him there, an active Christian witness and pastoral care would be available to his fellow cadets. At the same time, those of us in maritime ministry will have an invaluable resource at the Texas Maritime Academy to pass all that is available to US seafarers calling in our ports.
Fr. Sinclair Oubre, J.C.L. Diocesan Director Apostleship of the Sea and President of AOSUSA. 1500 Jefferson Dr. Port Arthur, Texas 77642. Church Phone: 409-985-8010 AOS Office: 409-982-5111 Fax: 409-985-5945 firstname.lastname@example.org
Apostleship of the Sea, Port of Corpus Christi
By Rev. Yul Ibay, STD
The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS), Diocese of Corpus Christi, TX offers spiritual and practical help to seafarers, their families and all who work and travel on the waterways. This maritime ministry shows the Church’s care and concern to seafarers who are often away from home for many months because of the nature of their work and who cannot participate in a regular parish life. The AOS Diocese of Corpus Christi works closely with the Alice Milloy-Corpus Christi International Seamen Center. The Center is a “home away from home” for seafarers visiting the Port of Corpus Christi. It is committed to provide a safe and welcoming recreational and spiritual environment for all the seafarers. It is the task of the maritime apostolate of the Corpus Christi International Seamen Center to offer pastoral care to seafarers who come to Corpus Christi Port.
The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS), through the Seamen Center, its chaplains and volunteers, makes it possible for seafarers regardless of color, religion, or race to find spiritual care, hospitality and practical assistance in a spirit of unity and solidarity. This principle is clearly explained by Pope Benedict XVI: “Those who practice charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak.” (Deus Caritas Est # 31)
Last April 20th, 2012 I had a chance to visit with some Romanian, Filipino and Indian seafarers at the Seamen Center. One of the seafarers in the center that evening was S. M. who has been working as a mariner since 1982. He is from Romania and very much enjoys his work as a seafarer. He expressed his appreciation for the AOS ministry and the services offered by the Corpus Christi Seamen Center. S. M. said, “I am so grateful to the chaplains and pastoral team for the hard work and commitment they show to seafarers.” He noted that because the Center has a free internet service he was able to access his email that evening. He was so particularly delighted because he was able to read up-to-date news about Romania. He bought phone cards and was able to talk to his family. “I made a good choice to visit the center this evening,” he added. The chaplains, pastoral team members and volunteers make it possible for seafarers regardless of color, religion, or race to find spiritual care, hospitality and practical assistance, thus recognizing the dignity of persons and welcoming the newcomer, in a spirit of solidarity, in unity through diversity.
(Father Yul P. Ibay is the Administrator of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, Corpus Christi Beach, TX and AOS Chaplain of the Port of Corpus Christi)