Catholic life in the United States, judging by my social media feed, is alive with energy and excitement about the Pope’s visit, and rightly so. Sister Sheila, our Congregation Leader, will be representing us at the Papal mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception today. Meanwhile, I will have to follow the excitement from afar since I am visiting our CSJP community in the United Kingdom for a couple of weeks.
Today I had the sheer privilege of joining some of our CSJP Sisters and Associates on an outing to visit the mission to seafarers at the Immingham Docks, the largest port in this country. I had no idea what to expect, and ended up being very moved by my experiences today. At the end of the day it felt more like a pilgrimage than an outing.
Immingham is located near Grimsby, England on the North Sea, the town where our first Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace began our mission of peace in 1884. The mission to Seafarers there is part of the Apostleship of the Sea – a global Catholic Charity which ministers to all seafarers, regardless of nationality or belief. Some of our CSJP Associates in the area volunteer with the mission.
At Immingham, we met Fr. Colum Kelly who is Chaplain to the mostly men, or “lads” as he calls them, who come from around the globe bringing imports such as coal, grain, biomass, wood, and automobiles to England. If you think about it, most of what we use comes to us wherever we are from places far, far away. And as I learned today, 90% of world trade is transported by ship. And, if you stop and think about it, those ships require human beings to navigate the seas.
That’s where the seafarers come in. A quick look at the visitors book shows that the seafarers come from all corners of the globe – Philippines, Vietnam, Poland, Greece, and Turkey to name a few. Fr. Colum told us stories of some of the cases he has been called in on to intervene, situations where the seafarers arrive in port hungry because there is not enough food on board, or in some cases they have not received their promised wages in months. Sadly, wage theft is a common problem in many industries, and is related to the reality of forced labor and human trafficking across the globe.
The stories Fr. Colum shared were powerful, and renewed my commitment to work against what Pope Francis has called the “globalization of indifference.” We live in a globalized economy, which means that we are intimately linked to the men, women, and sometimes children who harvest, mine, transport, and transform the raw materials which become the many consumer items we take for granted in our daily lives. Fr. Colum spoke of the invisible life of the seafarer. He also spoke with great passion and love for his ministry, which he described as the Church bringing its mission of hope and love to the margins, even in this invisible world to which we are all, in fact, connected.
Not all of the situations are so dire. Many of the seafarers work for honest companies, travel in safe vessels, and receive adequate food and regular wages. But they still spend as much as 9 months at sea, separated from family and isolated. The Seafarers Center welcomes them when they are in port with a shop, chapel, internet cafe, games room, money exchange, phone cards, etc… The mission was damaged in a flood after a tidal surge a couple of years ago, so the space we visited was bright and inviting. Fr. Colum and the lay chaplains also go on board the ships, offering a listening ear, providing religious services, and inviting them to the center. They also hold Christmas parties where they share gift boxes with toiletries and other sundry items donated from local parishes, often the only bit of cheer during the seafarers’ holiday.
In addition to learning about the mission and the life of the seafarers, we also were led in a couple of powerful meditations by Fr. Colum. One invited us to look at our own lives in terms of the cargo we carry–the “bad” cargo such as excessive busy-ness, past hurts, concern about what others might think, etc… — and our “good” cargo — our gifts and love and passion. How do we balance our cargo during our life’s journey, as we go about the work to which the God who loves us unconditionally has called us? Simple, really, but something which I found myself thinking about quite a bit on the two hour coach ride home.
Fr Colum also shared with us a devotion to Mary which was new to me … Mary Undoer of Knots. Apparently this is a favorite devotion of Pope Francis, which he first discovered when studying in Germany depicted in a painting he saw in a Church. This depiction of Mary draws on imagery from one of the early theologians of the Church, St. Ireneaus. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis introduced and encouraged this devotion in Latin America.
Fr. Colum shared a prayer of his own to Our Lady Undoer of Knots — a fitting devotion of course for someone who works with seafarers! He also led us in a time of reflection on the knots in our own lives before we ended the day with liturgy in the chapel there at the mission.
Each of us, of course, often finds our thoughts, minds, and even prayers tied up in knots. We worry about this or that, we are unsure how we will do x or how we will navigate that sticky situation with you know who.
How beautiful to call on Mary the undoer of knots in these moments of our lives. I’ll copy Fr. Colum’s prayer below, because perhaps you too might like to call on Mary in this way:
Holy Mary, mother of God and our most blessed mother too. You know my problems, both small and large, that like knots are tight and difficult to undo. I feel restricted by them and do not know how to overcome them. The knots of my heart, the knots of difficult family relationships, the knots of loneliness, knots of things yet to be forgiven …. Mother of mercy, untie the knots I am burdened with, journey with me from the darkness of confusion, into a new path of light.