Christmas outreach in Europe’s busiest ports

Crew members with clergy and chaplains, onboard the “Silver Whisper” Cruise Liner, Marseille, December 2020

Stella Maris’s international network of priests, chaplains and volunteers have been busy bringing the Christmas message of hope and joy to hard-working seafarers hailing from all nations of the world. Here we report from three of Europe’s busiest shipping ports.

In eastern Europe, our Ukrainian chaplain, Rostik, recently went aboard the Sea Pearl vessel, docked at the Port of Odessa – the largest Ukrainian seaport and one of the largest ports in the Black Sea basin – to bring Christmas goodie bags, including Stella Maris calendars, to the international crews. These tired and hard-working men have been braving the high seas and low temperatures of the winter months, and were very happy to see Rostik, who was able to wish them a Merry Christmas and provide them with helpful resources for their stay in port, as well as for their months ahead back at sea.

Meanwhile, in Barcelona, chaplain Ricardo was able to deliver 15 bags of assorted ‘turrones’ (typical Spanish Christmas sweets) and chocolates to seafarers on a number of vessels docked at the Port of Barcelona – one of Europe’s biggest ports in the Mediterranean. As is the custom at Christmas, Ricardo and his team were also able to give small nativity cribs to each ship as well. Ricardo reported that all of the crews were very happy and grateful to have their visitor onboard and to receive their Christmas gifts.

Finally, in the south of France, at the Port of Marseille, Stella Maris chaplains Jean-Philippe and Marie-Agnès had the challenging task of organising masses to be said for the seafarers on-board the seven “Silversea” Cruise Liners. These vessels had been held in the port of Marseille for the past several months and the weary seafarers were keen to have Christmas masses celebrated on-board.

Originally, it was planned that seven masses would be said on-board the seven liners, on 24th and 26th December. Therefore Jean-Philippe, Marie-Agnès and their team rushed around trying to find enough priests who were able to celebrate the different masses.

A Filipino priest, Percival, was found. A diocesan priest, Christophe, was also available. As too was another parish priest. However, given the priests’ busy schedules, this was still not enough to celebrate all of the masses. Another priest, Father Thomas, who lived in the Philippines for two years, was also contacted, and he reacted with enthusiasm to the appeal for help. However, this was still not enough. Finally, Jean-Philippe and Marie-Agnès forwarded their search for priests to their Archbishop and the Vicar General… both of whom spontaneously offered to come and participate themselves!! All was looking good.

At the same time, Jean-Philippe and Marie-Agnès procured 1,000 medals from Notre Dame de la Garde; they made Christmas cards; had the Mass liturgies printed in English; and printed out carol sheets also. They had to organise the distribution of the chasubles of the Apostolatus Maris, and to arrange for the Child Jesus to be placed on the altars. A seminarian, Louis, also asked Catechism children from two schools in the northern districts of Marseille to make cards that would be distributed to the seafarers. These Christmas cards made by the children were a real success; especially because the seafarers were so far from their own families. The team from Stella Maris met with a lot of emotion, even tears, from the seafarers, who were grateful for this time of celebration during these difficult times.   

Eventually, six masses were celebrated, including one by the Archbishop on Christmas Day. However, of the seven ships, one vessel, the “Silver Moon”, found itself in a special situation whereby, due to the Covid situation, access to the ship was completely forbidden. At the last minute it appeared that the 170 crew members on-board were going to be deprived of Christmas celebrations! It was unimaginable and inconceivable.

Jean-Philippe and Marie-Agnès arranged for the Archbishop to bless during his mass the medals intended for the seafarers on-board the Silver Moon, and these were given to them. However, another solution had to be found. Thankfully, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde was equipped with all the necessary equipment to livestream mass – as it had recently been doing so every morning. Thanks to the rector of the Basilica and the diocese’s IT service, Father Percival, accompanied by members of the Philippine community of Marseille, was able to celebrate a mass on 26th December at 10am – and this was broadcast via YouTube to the 170 crew members on-board the Silver Moon.

This communion between the Filipino community in the Basilica, singing in Tagalog to Our Lady of the Guard, and the isolated seafarers on-board their ships, had an incredible spiritual atmosphere. The baby Jesus from the cot who could not reach the “Silver Moon” had led Jean-Philippe and Marie-Agnès and their team to Notre Dame de la Garde, who in turn sent her son on board the ships.

Jean-Philippe and Marie-Agnès were over-joyed that despite all of the restrictions, challenges and obstacles that they faced at the Port of Marseille, all of the seafarers were able to participate in joyfully celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas – for “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).