Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for August: The Maritime World – We pray for all those who work and live from the sea, among them sailors, fishermen and their families.
The coronavirus has taught us how interconnected we are with one another and how much we depend on others for our own safety. Even a tiny thing like a virus can change our way of life. If it arrives in a town, it can close hotels, lay off workers, lock up state borders and so affect the lives and livelihood of people a thousand kilometres away.
This month, Pope Francis invites us to reflect on the interconnection between people, and to reach out, especially to the people whose lives depend on the sea. He calls us to see them not as a group or a statistic but as real people. He mentions sailors, fishermen and their families. In Australian coastal communities, we might add to that list the people running fish and chip shops, lifeguards, coaches in surfing schools, waiters and cleaners in seaside hotels, owners, tenants and workers in the banks and shops, and the tourists on whose custom the town relies. In seaside towns, we have seen the devastating effect that bushfires and coronavirus have had on people in these communities, as well as on those more directly attached to the sea.
We have also felt for passengers on cruise ships, whose holiday of a lifetime turned into an experience of captivity. The thousands of others on the ships have received less attention. Crew members who attended to the passengers’ needs and desires on board, ranging from the ship’s crew, to the support staff, the cooks and kitchen staff, the cleaners and launderers, musicians and entertainers and other employees, can pass unnoticed. Many of the crew were unable to leave their ships in any port, while others lost their work, their income and the security of their family.
In his reflections on the relationship between environmental exploitation and poverty, Pope Francis has told us that wherever there is greed there will be poverty, and wherever there is poverty, wealthy people will try to exploit it. That is certainly widely true of fishing and of running cruise ships. These vessels, owned by wealthy first-world corporations, are often registered under flags of convenience in developing nations that free the investors from paying award wages and from obligations to keep their employees safe and guarantee their employment. Crew members on fishing vessels in many parts of the world, too, are badly paid and fed, bullied and risk being beaten or even killed if they complain. They are caught in a culture of greed and inequality, in which people are disrespected for their humanity and are used and abused for their profitability. This is not to mention the people who seek protection by sea and are abused both by people who promise them safe travel and by the governments on which they make their claim for asylum.
When we focus on people who depend on the sea, we risk forgetting that its fecundity calls out to us to help defend it against the greed that threatens to make it barren. Many people who earn their lives by fishing depend on the spawning grounds that provide them with their catch. These grounds are affected by the mud released from deforestation affecting the oceans, by oil spills and other pollution. The reality of global warming, too, is beginning to affect both the sea and the communities that draw their living from it, through its effect on fish species and on rising sea levels. When the sea is regarded as an inexhaustible rubbish bin, too, it will inevitably be degraded and will ruin the lives of the people who depend on it.
In Pope Francis’ world, prayer for people who live off the sea naturally leads us to reach out to them. In port cities, Catholic chaplains and volunteers often provide a meeting place and pastoral care for crew members on ships. In coastal townships during the bushfires, many Vinnies groups offered emergency services and help. Such initiatives are prayer in practice.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.