Apostleship of the Sea offers resources, advocacy for those on the world's waterways

Fr. Sinclair Oubre, left, visits a pilot boat in Port Arthur, Texas, in January 2012. Oubre serves as the diocesan director and chaplain of the ports of Port Arthur and Orange in the Beaumont diocese. (Apostleship of the Sea-USA)

After 30 months idling on its side in the reef of the Tyrrhenian Sea, in July the 114,000-ton Costa Concordia sat upright once more.

On the night of Jan. 14, 2012, the massive cruise ship struck rocks off the coast of the Italian island Giglio. Thirty-two people would die in the tragedy that followed, and its captain allegedly abandoned ship. Back onboard, though, was chaplain Fr. Raffaele Malena, who, according to reports, remained among the 4,200 crew and passengers as long as he could.

The priest helped families evacuate the ship, and also activated the network of the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) -- the Catholic church's ecumenical ministry to all who work and transport along the world's waterways -- to provide further assistance. The AOS team spent the following days meeting with 1,500 passengers and crewmembers in hospitals and hotels to offer spiritual and psychological support, as well as clothes and medicine.

Malena's experience aboard the capsized Concordia stands as an outlier of those common to priests, religious and laypeople involved in the Apostleship of the Sea, which emerged in 1920 Scotland. A small lay group in Glasgow sought to formalize a ministry that dated back to the previous century; they named the apostleship and defined its mission: "to promote the spiritual, moral and social development of seafarers." Two years later, Pope Pius XII blessed the ministry and encouraged its expansion into all hemispheres.

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A version of this story appeared in the Aug 29-Sept 11, 2014 print issue under the headline: Safe harbor .

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