‘We are on the same boat’ – Pope Francis
The current global coronavirus epidemic is a reminder that we are sailing on the same boat — a spiritual voyage regardless of one’s nationality, race, age or social status.
The sea of life can be quite calm, but it also can change so suddenly, with the waves that represent life’s sudden obstacles and hardships.
Pope Francis said during the special solitary prayer service “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) last Friday from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica that the health crisis put everyone “in the same boat”.
“We were caught off-guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realised that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other,” he said.
The Vatican called the service “An Extraordinary Prayer in the Time of Pandemic” as the death toll of the global epidemic continues to rise while more than half of the world’s population is confined to their homes to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Popes usually give their extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” only immediately after their election and on Christmas and Easter Sunday.
The pope prayed for an end of the epidemic while urging the world to see the coronavirus pandemic as a test of solidarity and a reminder of basic values.
“Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives,” the pope said. “Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.”
Like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, he said, “we will experience that, with him on board, there will be no shipwreck, because this is God’s strength: Turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things.”
Boats as the symbolic vehicle of faith had been part of the teachings of the church.
Christ first gathered his fishermen-disciples around him who later disseminated his teachings.
Andrew, Peter, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were fishermen.
The Bible relates that Andrew and Peter were fishing, plying their trade when called, and James and John were mending nets with their father. The Bible also states that James and John weren’t just fishermen, but business owners, along with their father, for they employed others in the business.
Thomas and Philip may have also worked as fishermen, for they were all together and fishing when Jesus appeared to them following his resurrection.
“We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives,” he said. “We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed.”
Pope Francis also prayed for safety of the frontliners that “are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility” and “in small everyday gestures, face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer.”
Seafarers can be considered as frontliners themselves since they belong to a profession known to be one of the most hazardous occupations, with regard to personal health and safety concerns, while making sure that there is food on the table.
Ninety percent (90%) of the world’s food, fuel, raw material and manufactured goods are delivered by sea. Nearly all things sold worldwide are transported through ships, which need skilled seafarers to operate, maintain and repair.
Transporting cargo from one port to the other often involves facing frightful storms and horrific waves.
Apart from accidents, seafarers are prone to certain serious diseases and health hazards due to the nature of onboard work, change in climatic conditions, type of cargo carried, working hours, materials being handled, epidemic and endemic diseases, and personal habits.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle once said that Filipino seafarers are ‘saint potentials.’ The archbishop was referring to Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod as he noted that these two martyrs of the Philippine Catholic Church were seafarers and missionaries at the same time before they became saints. He added that Ruiz and Calungsod sailed to other countries and died for a mission: “To teach the Good News.”
Due to the COVID-19 fiasco, there are reports of thousands of seafarers with expired employment contracts have been forced into continued labor aboard ships to meet the demands of governments that have closed their borders and yet still want fuel, food and supplies.’
Under international maritime labor law, seafarers have a right to return home at the end of their contract at no cost to themselves.
Unfortunately, airline and port restrictions have made it difficult for seafarers to get home if the governments do not make special arrangements. In some instances, repatriation is almost impossible because most international air traffic is grounded.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices.
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