In a meeting with the Apostleship of the Sea on Thursday, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of mercy, and said he was giving sea chaplains the same expansive faculties he had given to the Missionaries of Mercy.
“I would like to say a word about peace of heart. Many sailors approach or come to see chaplains and priests with problems of conscience that make them suffer greatly, problems that they have never had a chance to bring up in those circumstances, so far from home, far from their native land,” the Pope said June 27 in the Vatican's Clementine Hall to participants in a meeting for chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea.
“Dialogue with a chaplain may well open up new horizons of hope. So I would say to you: be merciful, be merciful. And to favour that mercy, I grant to all chaplains of sailors the same faculties I have gave to the Missionaries of Mercy. In this way, you will be able to bring peace to so many hearts.”
During the Jubilee of Mercy, the Missionaries of Mercy had no limits on where they could validly and licitly hear confessions, and they were able to absolve sins otherwise reserved to the Holy See: rofaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment; and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor.
Pope Francis noted the importance of maritime industry, and thus the chaplains who minister to seamen.
“Without sailors, the global economy would come to a standstill; and without fishermen, many parts of the world would starve. I would ask you to convey my esteem and encouragement to the sailors and fishermen whom you meet, many of whom work for lengthy periods of time, thousands of miles away from their native land and their families,” he said.
The pope noted that in addition to isolation and distance, sailors and fishermen can face injustice, trafficking, forced labor, and piracy.
“As chaplains and volunteers of Stella Maris, you have been entrusted with the mission of presence, bringing the Good News of the Lord Jesus to the complex and varied world of seafaring,” he told his audience.
“Your daily visits to the ships enable you to encounter people in concrete situations, at times serene, at other times anxious or even deeply troubled. With compassion and discretion, you give them a chance to pour out their hearts. This is the first and most precious service that you provide, above all to those who have few similar opportunities. Your ministry to sailors and fishermen is above all one of listening to them and to their material and spiritual needs.”
This listening can lead to action, he advised, encouraging them to confront “human trafficking, forced labour and violations of the human and labour rights of so many men and women who live and work on the seas.”
“Through your service, you can help restore to these persons their sense of dignity,” he said.
The pope added that “thanks to you, those who are most vulnerable can find hope for a better future. Your efforts can help them not to give up in the face of a life that is precarious and at times marked by exploitation. Your presence in the ports, large and small, is already a sign of God's fatherhood and the fact that, in his eyes, we are all children, brothers and sisters to one another.”
He said that “your presence is also a sign of the primordial worth of the human person, prior to and above every other interest, and an incentive for everyone, starting with the poorest, to work for justice and respect for fundamental rights.”