... APOSTLESHIP OF THE SEA Apostolatus Maris




By: Justin Gleissner Translation:Ds. Marc Schippers

Today the Stella Maris or Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) is a safe haven in port in many places all over the world. A place where seafarers can escape from the monotonous life onboard after weeks at sea and months away from home. Where they can meet other seafarers or civilians, fellow-countrymen or not. Where they can find a listening ear. A place where wifi and cheap phone cards are available. Where they can order beers and soft drinks without fear of being ripped off. In all respects, a place where they feel at ease.
However, it has not always been like that. There are legendary tales about ports as places of destruction, where the seaman was considered a profit centre, to be cheated or robbed, willingly or reluctantly.
Glasgow: The OriginAt first there were alternatives to seafarers’ usual entertainment ashore, thanks to Peter Anson who was born in the Scottish city of Glasgow in 1889. He became a fisherman and was also a Benedictine oblate. During a meeting of Catholic laypeople in Glasgow on 4 October 1920, he founded the Apostleship of the Sea or Apostolatus Maris. He designed the well-known logo of Stella Maris. The charter of foundation of the Apostleship of the Sea was introduced by him to Pope Pius XI in Rome in 1922. With the papal blessing, Rome became the seat of the international organisation, while Glasgow became its headquarters. Anson passed away in 1975.

Arthur Gannon was one of his supporters. He became secretary of the association. He visited various ports, looking for like-minded people who also cared for seafarers, accommodating them while they were staying ashore. In March 1928 the Council of the Apostleship of the Sea was founded in order to coordinate the operations of all organisations that were taking care of seafarers’ welfare. Therefrom originated the Apostolatus Maris International Concilium (AMIC) with Arthur Gannon as its first secretary. The apostolic constitution Exsul Familia, recognizing the Apostleship of the Sea as an integral part of the Church, appeared in 1952.

Meanwhile Catholic apostolate works were motivated to take care of seafarers: to provide a home for them if needed, to assist them in the protection of their social rights and to prepare them for their next period at sea. Father Martin Dale, S.J. had compiled a handy Prayer Book for Catholic seafarers, of which thousands of copies were printed and distributed among seafarers or sent with ships. Father Koevoets compiled a similar prayer booklet in the port of Rotterdam. Already in the 1930’s an address list could be published with quarters where seamen were “at home”. Most of them carried the name of Stella Maris.

Ndaka ya Bissu
On the initiative of Arthur Gannon, international meetings were already held then. These meetings found a response in Rome which was conveyed to the diocese of Mechelen. The diocese was informed that vessels were also coming to Antwerp and that more attention could be paid to seafarers. This concern was relayed to Saint Paul’s Parish, the heart of the Antwerp port quarter in those days. Immediately a team of ship visitors was assembled. Seafarers were from then on welcome to the parish house.

The Apostleship of the Sea became a solid organisation thanks to the appointment of Father Eugeen Boogaers as port chaplain. Born in Turnhout in 1881, he already had made a career as cowboy chaplain in the diocese of Oklahoma (1909). At the start of the First World War in 1914, he returned to Belgium to become army chaplain. On 18th March 1917 he got severely wounded at the hip during the enemy attack at Reigersvliet, while helping wounded and dying soldiers in the trenches. His army career ended in 1929.

Looking for a new challenge, he encountered Father Kruynen from the Scheut Missions, who took care of Congolese seamen, sailing on Belgian ships, the Congo boats of the old days. For this, Kruynen had received a house on Van Dycklaan 1 from the shipping company. It got the name Ndaka ya Bissu, Our House. There seafarers found a home while their vessel stayed at dry dock for repairs or other operations. It would become the first Stella Maris in Antwerp. It was not easy as tensions arose between the shipping company and Kruynen because he was concerned about the working conditions onboard. The officers also felt that he was on too familiar terms with the black seafarers, fearing their authority onboard would be compromised. The conclusion was: exit Ndaka ya Bissu.

During the interbellum, chaplains were also appointed onboard of Belgian trainee ships and at the Naval Academy. Priests and missionaries, travelling to and from the colony, were taking care of church services onboard.

Father Boogaers had not remained idle. He was convinced that a large apostolate area lay in store for the port and for seafarers in particular. At the end of the hostilities in 1945, he became acquainted with the future Mgr. Lambrechts, who was taking care of detainees. Boogaers put the collection of the Library for Seafarers, which had no clients in those days, at the disposal of the disciples of Mgr. Lambrechts. It would be the start of a fruitful cooperation between the two clergymen. In December 1946 Boogaerts wrote a letter to the international secretary Arthur Gannon, requesting a collaborator due to his weak health.

Amicale In hidingThis became Father Jan Fratteur who would assist Boogaers until he was appointed pastor of the now no longer existing parish of Oosterweel in the port area.

Eugeen Boogaers was on his own again but from all sides there was pressure to appoint a permanent collaborator from the diocese. Mgr. Lambrechts received the order from the diocese to write a study about the “pastoral necessities in the port of Antwerp”. This resulted in Mgr. Lambrechts’s appointment as chaplain of the Apostleship of the Sea in Antwerp, to reinforce Boogaers.

In the meantime the seamen’s house Stella Maris at Italiëlei 72 was under construction. It was built thanks to sponsors, with half of the funds subsidized by the province and the city of Antwerp. The new club had a foyer with a bar, a banquethall, a restaurant, the Seafarers’ Library, a small shop and nine hotel rooms. It was inaugurated on 30 June 1951. During this period, crews were shifting in Antwerp. Between signing on and off seafarers had to stay ashore. The hotel capacity of the Stella Maris soon proved to be insufficient. No provisions were made for a resident chaplain or responsable person. When the neighbour of the adjacent number 74 offered his property up for sale, it was accepted eagerly. Both houses became one due to the demolition of the partitions, the elimination of stairs and the creation of passageways. Thus the hotel accommodation could be extended to fourteen rooms. A chapel and a secretariat were built, the banquethall was enlarged by half and meeting rooms were added. .

From 1952 until the 1980’s the Amicale des Marins Congolais, a meeting room for Congolese seafarers, was accommodated in the cellar beneath number 72. This was an initiative of Father Nuyens who had been a priest in Matadi. As most black seafarers onboard Belgian vessels were from this Congolese port city, there was often a joyful reunion. The Amicale lived as if it was hidden. Until the cheerfulness resulted in nightly clamor and neigbours’ protest which led to the closure of the underground relaxation space.

During this period the number of collaborators of Stella Maris increased considerably: even up to fifty volunteers. Young ladies took care of the atmosphere during dance hall evenings on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Others tended to the bar and the shop. Others formed a visiting team for sick seafarers who were hospitalized in Antwerp. Ship visitors went into the port daily. They went onboard of foreign vessels and made Stella Maris known. Father Boogaers, the founder of Stella Maris, passed away on 7 February 1956.

In 1958 Mgr. Lambrechts was assisted by Father Borgers, doctor of science and professor at Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege.

Internationally we noted during this period the transfer of the international general secretary from Glasgow to Rome. In 1960 Mgr. Lambrechts was appointed executive international secretary of Apostolatus Maris in Rome. In this function he was co-responsible for the international development of the Apostleship of the Sea. From 1956 to 1960 the Catholic seamen’s house would coordinate the placement of chaplains onboard Belgian merchant navy ships which also took cadets of the Naval Academy along. These vessels were the Louis Sheid, Montalto, Eekloo and the trainee sailing ship Mercator.

Exit hotelIn the meantime Father Fons Laureys, also a former high school teacher, had transferred to the Stella Maris after two years sailing as a merchant navy chaplain. From 1962 onwards he restructured the Seafarers’ Library and tended to the pastoral care for the cadets of the Naval Academy.
Chaplain Borgers started the ecumenical co-operation between various seamen’s missions in the port. This led to an agreement between the British Sailors’ Society, The Missions to Seamen and Apostolatus Maris who founded the Antwerp Mariners’ Club in the middle of the port in 1970. Later the Deutsche Seemannsmission also joined the ecumenical club. The name Antwerp Seafarers’ Centre appeared next to Stella Maris on the housefront of Italiëlei 72. Jef Borgers resigned in July 1970 to become science teacher once more in Brussels.

On the international level chaplain Laureys would also become chairman of the European Regional Organisation of the Apostleship of the Sea.. Earlier he was already appointed director of Apostolatus Maris Belgium. He passed away on 20 December 1992.

Shortly before his death, Father Jozef Visser offered his services. He had been a teacher at the Technicum where he taught religious sciences. Before that he had been a missionary (Order of the Spiritans) during six years in Congo where he experienced the Indépendance and its atrocities. Due to health reasons he came back to Belgium where he became a priest and port chaplain in the diocese of Antwerp. Although he had never been in contact with seafarers or seagoing vessels, he went into the port as ship visitor. He also took care more and more of the administration of the seamen’s house. During this time computer science and digitization started to appear in all administrations. Thanks to chaplain Visser Stella Maris did not miss this evolution. He also designed the first website of Apostolatus Maris which he updated until 2013. Until 2005 he was active in the charity. He had to retire permanently because of health problems.

In the meantime the priest shortage became noticed. In September 1993 Father Stefaan Grillet was officially appointed port chaplain. Stefaan Grillet had been a priest worker in international transport. In August 1996 he left towards new challenges. He was succeeded by Father Geert Bamelis who was recalled in 2006 to the diocese of Bruges and was appointed priest in Bredene. In October 2006 Father Leo Van Doninck was appointed responsible person of the Roman Catholic pastoral work at Apostolatus Maris. He has exercised this ministry of port chaplain until June 2009 after requesting his resignation due to health reasons. Father Jos Vanhoof brought some rejuvenation in 2009. Being a missionary in Venezuela, working with farmers, he was asked by the new bishop to take care of pastoral work in the port. He is assisted by the Filipino priest Jorgedy Bago. As a large part of the visiting seafarers are Filipinos, their visit to the Centre is always a joyful reunion, in Tagalog!

International shipping also changed drastically. Seafarers who sign off in Antwerp, are staying seldom ashore anymore. Usually the shipping agent takes care of them being picked up at the ship and transported to the airport where they are repatriated. The hotel function of Stella Maris became more and more superfluous. From 1980 onwards the rooms were closed one by one. The restaurant had been already closed since 1975. The restaurant kitchen in the basement was demolished in 2013. The International Seamen’s House at Falconrui was torn down in 2013 and replaced by the Antwerp Harbour Hotel at Noorderlaan. Seafarers can spend the night there during crew change.

Good Housekeeper
Beforehand Belgian seafarers visited the foyer daily, presenting themselves for signing on at the Recruitment Office for Seafarers in the Olijftakstraat, a bystreet of the Italiëlei. However, there is no more signing on in Antwerp since the flagging out of the Belgian merchant navy fleet. The recruitment office was closed and Stella Maris lost a large part of its daily customers. Since then the foyer is closed during the day. The opening hours were limited to 19 – 23 hrs. It is visited mainly by seafarers from all nationalities who are picked up by bus in the port every evening. At 23 hrs. the seafarers are brought back by bus to their ships.

The shop is still functioning thanks to the commitment of volunteers. Wifi has been installed at the foyer. Seafarers can use the fixed computers but they can also bring their own laptop, tablet or smartphone. Telecommunication facilities have also been extended. A small biljart table and a ping-pong table are available. Every Saturday and Sunday evening the Eucharist is celebrated in the language of the faithful: English, Tagalog, Spanish, Dutch. There is a chaplain on duty every evening: Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran or Anglican.

The old hotel rooms were modernised and refurbished as student rooms for students of the Naval Academy, thanks to an interest-free loan of the Royal Belgian Shipping Owners’ Association.

The Seafarers’ Library was taken over by the City Library in 2008. The City Library provides books and dvd’s to ships in port through chaplains and ship visitors. In the foyer a library point has been retained, where seafarers can find books in many languages.

The extensive archive has been cleaned up and handed over to the Catholic Documentation Centre (KADOC) in Leuven.

The personnel was drastically reduced. Apostolatus Maris vzw, with captain Guido Lannoy, its chairman since 1998, came more and more to the forefront. The board of administrators manages the charity as a good housekeeper, taking care of the administrative, material and financial framework, enabling the chaplains to exercise fully their apostolate. Mrs. Caroline Smits, one of the administrators of the charity, takes care of daily management on a voluntary basis since 2005. The daily running of the house includes, among other things, renting of the student rooms, ordering for the bar and maintenance works. The diocese of Antwerp provides two full-time priests. They are assisted by a group of volunteers. The other partners at the Antwerp Seafarers’ Centre - the Sailors’ Society, The Mission to Seafarers, and the Deutsche Seemannsmission - each have their own pastor, also assisted by volunteers. Representatives of the various churches hold a chaplains’ meeting every Tuesday morning at Stella Maris, discussing the activities. The port has been divided into areas. Every chaplain has been given an area in which to visit ships.

In 2013 the Centre welcomed 14.246 seafarers coming from 2.477 ships.

Source : admin
Date : 2018-09-30

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