While it is well known that Nicholas (whose feast day is December 6) is the patron saint of children, it is less well known that he is also the patron saint of all those who “go down to sea in ships, and occupy their business on the great waters” (Psalm 107, verse 23).
On any given day there are about 1.5 million seafarers on some 50,000 vessels transporting 90% of the world’s cargo. Seafarers are an often-unseen lot, yet we depend on them for so much. They transport most of our food, clothing and furniture; new cars and electronic devices. They also transport potash, iron ore and coal; oil, lumber, steel and scrap metal. The men and women who crew these vessels spend very extended periods of time away from home and family.
While they all face the natural perils of the deep, some work on vessels that are not in good repair. They are, in fact, unsafe. Some face the terror of piracy on the high seas. Some are harassed and some abused. Some are denied their pay for months on end. Even in port, some are denied shore leave.
Thankfully, Mission to Seafarers worldwide is devoted to the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of all seafarers, regardless of race or religion. This ministry ranges from ship visits to hospitality in the stations, provision of Wi-Fi access and transport to shopping centres. Sometimes emergency health care and/or counselling are needed. In the face of abuses of their rights as seafarers, Mission to Seafarers exercises a ministry of advocacy with appropriate authorities. In their unwavering devotion to the well-being of seafarers, numerous chaplains, station managers and volunteers often put in very long days and very long nights, too.
December is typically a busy month as the annual Christmas Shoebox Campaign gets into full swing. It involves hundreds of people who knit woollen hats, scarves, mittens and socks; and many others who provide toiletries, candy and “thinking of you” Christmas greetings. Packaged in the spirit of St. Nicholas and delivered to thousands of seafarers in ports all across Canada and around the world, these gifts invariably bring on a big smile and a few tears to them, just knowing they have not been forgotten.
As they leave port, let us, in the spirit of the guardianship of Nicholas, join every seafarer in their prayer:
“My boat is small, your sea so vast,
Dear Lord, protect me.”