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Our Lady of the Sea

Religion assists the people of the sea, particularly seafarers, in coping with dangerous and emotionally challenging workplaces

Faith is the most powerful weapon in overcoming difficult emotional or even dangerous conditions and in making life at sea bearable in many ways.

Prayers for safe voyages is the driving force behind the construction of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, or the Lady of the Sea in Barcelona, Spain, which is the backdrop of two novels of Ildefonso Falcones — “Cathedral of the Sea” and “Heirs of the Land.”

Netflix has brought to our TV screen the original adaptations of the two novels by Falcones on the travails of the people surrounding the construction of the basilica that was built at the height of Barcelona’s golden age in maritime and mercantile during the 14th century.

The cathedral was located by the beach in a neighborhood of a mix of sailors, harbor workers, fishermen, craftsmen, and merchants.

It was principally funded by local people: rich merchants provided the money while sailors, porters, and powerful guild of stone-workers (bastaixos) transported tons of stone from nearby quarries.

Church masses were attended mainly by people of the sea: sailors, fishermen, dragnetters, skippers, port laborers, artisans of fish conserves, and traders.

The church took 55 years to build, between 1329 and 1383, and is a rare example of pure Catalan Gothic architecture.

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It is a thrilling historical novel of friendship and revenge, plague and hope, love and war as it weaves in real historical settings the political figures and religious strife between Christians and Jews.

A Seafarers International Research Center (SIRC) study revealed how religious practices may serve to mitigate negative aspects of work on board ships, such as loneliness, isolation and institutional living, as well as fear of the dangers that can be encountered at sea.

Seafarers ensure the safety of cargo ships before sailing. (Shutterstock photo)

Religion assists the people of the sea, particularly seafarers, in coping with dangerous and emotionally challenging workplaces.

It offers for the ordinary seafarers strength, hope, and peace in relation to their daily work and social relationships on board the vessel.

People of the sea find strength in their God as they commonly experience fear for their life during emergencies at sea often associated with storms, mechanical failure, collisions and groundings.

They increase their resilience in dealing with stressful and dangerous workplace situations by drawing strength from God.

They are more likely to lean on their belief in God to help them during difficult times, or when they are powerless to help themselves.

It was relatively common for seafarers to engage in faith-based routines, which they hoped would offer them some protection from ill fate.

Stella Maris, formerly known as the Apostleship of the Sea, is the Catholic Church’s missionary work to the peoples of the sea, particularly seafarers, whether they be on merchant, passenger, war or fishing vessels.

Its patron is the Virgin Mary, or the Our Lady, Star of the Sea.

Founded in Glasgow, Scotland, in the early 20th century, it provides practical and pastoral care to all peoples of the sea, regardless of nationality, belief or race, through chaplaincies in ports in all continents of the world,

Filipino seafarers mark the country’s Independence Day in this undated photo on board Solvang Philippine Inc and Solvang ASA vessels Clipper Posh and Clipper Freeport. (Photo courtesy of the TSM Group)

In addition to offering welcome and hospitality on ship visits, Stella Maris staff assists seafarers in distress, whether due to unsafe/exploitative working conditions or long periods of isolation onboard the vessel.

In the Philippines, Stella Maris is tasked to coordinate with the public and private sectors the activities related to the celebration of National Seafarers Day.

Masses and prayers for the safe voyage of seafarers are traditionally part of the annual observance, which is celebrated by virtue of Proclamation 828 by President Fidel V. Ramos on July 9, 1996, declaring August 18 as National Seafarers Day.

The purpose of the proclamation is to give due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers toward the development of the Philippines as a maritime country.

Later, Proclamation 1094 was issued in 1997 by President Ramos, moving the celebration to the last Sunday of September every year.

I earlier wrote on the tradition of paying homage to the Lady of Caysasay in Batangas and Ma-Cho in La Union as a confluence of tradition practiced by both Filipinos and Tsinoys in simultaneous Christian and Chinese rituals. It is believed that the images are one and the same because of their huge resemblance.

Ma-cho is known as the Chinese Goddess of the Sea and is considered to be the special protector or patron saint of fishermen, sailors and seafarers.

The Philippines is considered as a major supplier of maritime labor globally as it is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five complements on board a vessel at any time.

Pope Francis acknowledged the role played by seafarers in keeping the global economy running amid the pandemic. He recognized their immense sacrifices like separation from families, friends and native countries.

Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786

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