The Stella Maris Seafarers' Center in Manila assists seafarers, fishermen, and their families through pastoral guidance and prayers.
"Our ministry is to keep them strong and firm in their faith, hope, and love in God, especially at trying times," says Argelia H. Baguio, a member of the sisters of Jesus Good Shepherd (SJBP), commonly known as "Pastorelle Sisters."
"We assist seafarers, fishermen, and their families for their wellness and mental health so that they will live a balanced, harmonious, and joyful family life despite many challenges," adds Sister Argelia, coordinator of Seafarers’ Wives and Family Ministry at the Stella Maris Seafarers' Center in Manila.
Three years ago, she joined the Stella Maris Seafarers' Center in Manila.
Some of the activities that have been done in the past and are currently being undertaken at the center are praiseworthy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the center had online Masses on Wednesdays, first Fridays, and feast days. The center organized online Advent and Lenten recollections as well.
It conducted webinars for the formation of the seafarers’ wives. The topics were chosen according to their needs, especially mental health, with invited resource speakers.
"We held regular monthly meetings with the wives, and they used to share during the meeting. We also had an online seafarers’ wives’ orientation for the newly recruited members," explained Sister Argelia.
"We organized an online family Christmas get-together (with talks on family presentations and games) and helped in the distribution of COVID-19 gift certificates and brochures to families," she added.
The staff at Stella Maris accompanied the families and seafarers during their times of difficulties and anxiety through social media platforms, sharing the Word of God and faith-life experiences.
"We used to send the Word of God, inspirational messages, and greetings through social media group chats and groups of seafarers and families to nurture their spiritual lives," the nun said.
During the new normal, the center resumed the hospital visit to the Amosup Hospital every Wednesday and Friday morning with the volunteers—the seafarers’ wives.
"We prayed over them, assuring them of our spiritual and moral support, and we listened to their painful stories," said Argelia. "We conducted family visits with the members of the seafarers’ wives’ groups. We organized the seafarers’ wives in selected parishes of the dioceses of Cubao, Caloocan, Novaliches, and the Archdiocese of Manila."
The center conducted an outreach program for persons with disabilities (PWD) and the elderly at the Josepheim Foundation in Pililia, Rizal Province, 16 kilometers east of Manila.
It helped in the distribution of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Manuals for the seafarers’ families in the different nearby dioceses and the Archdiocese of Manila for awareness and guidance. It conducted regular monthly meetings with the seafarers’ wives, recollections, and seminars.
When asked about Argelia’s experience of working with seafarers’ wives, she said, "For me, this kind of ministry is challenging and enriching. Thanks be to God, it has been a grace-filled experience, and my heart is filled with gratitude and joy."
Speaking on the challenges seafarers, fishermen, and their families are facing now, she explained that many seafarers are not yet deployed and find difficulty looking for a job in different places, even in Manila.
The same was true for fishermen, whose families and children were affected financially and morally due to the pandemic.
Their children stopped schooling, and their education was affected. Some have broken family relationships.
The Stella Maris Center in Manila helps seafarers, fishermen, and their families face challenges by providing financial assistance and pastoral care.
"During the pandemic, we supported them spiritually, financially, and morally," said Argelia.
"We had online accompaniment for those who were in depression and difficulty, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted family visits and catechesis for those who have problems in relationships and those with suicidal tendencies," she added.
The center held value formation and spiritual nourishment activities like the encounter of the Word (Bible sharing).
The common difficulties seafarers and fishermen face in their workplaces affect the families left behind as well. It is due to low salaries. Some companies are not true to what is written in the employment contract.
Seafarers are suffering due to unhealthy food, which causes kidney stones, gallbladder stones, and other health complications and illnesses.
Additionally, some fishermen experience maltreatment by the crew and even the captain of the vessel. Some also face abuse, injustice, and human trafficking.
Some of the wives left behind have problems with financial budgeting. Some have no value formation, and, sad to say, some have problems with marital infidelity. There are also problems with sickness and illness due to a lack of proper diet and wellness.
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