Among those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan, which ripped through the Philippines a week ago, one group has been drawing little notice: Filipino mariners on the high seas, anguishing over the fate of their loved ones — with little opportunity to express that anguish.
Seafarers' House is helping to fill that gap. Clergy at the interfaith ministry, based at Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale, are counseling, saying Mass and leading prayer with the shipworkers.
"People are focused on the devastation on the ground," notes Lesley Warrick, director of Seafarers' House. "It's easy to overlook these people who are bereaved on ships."
A half-dozen chaplains with Seafarers' House are working with major cruise lines, including Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean, as well as cargo vessels. By the end of Sunday, Seafarers' House and its volunteers will have visited 20 to 25 ships.
Some of them are among the largest cruise ships, such as the Allure of the Seas and the Oasis of the Seas, each of which employs more than 2,100 workers, including hundreds of Filipinos. For those workers, the Masses and counseling are especially important, says Father Ron Perkins, chaplain at Seafarers' House.
"They have to be positive and upbeat and smiling and welcoming to passengers, 24/7," he says. "While they're doing that, they're worrying about their loved ones, not knowing if they're alive or dead or injured or have food or water or a roof over their heads."
For practical help, Seafarers' House is giving away 500 phone cards, at least to start. The organization is also handing out 2,000 envelopes of info, with include prayer cards and lists of international organizations with translators in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. Each envelope also has two cards: one with Perkins' information, another with the Seafarer's Prayer.
The Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise lines have also asked Seafarers' House for contacts to other mariner chaplaincies, including those in Houston and Los Angeles.
Besides Perkins, the Seafarers' House team includes Filipino priest Father Jesus Medina, of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, Miami; retired priest Father John McLaughlin of Fort Lauderdale, and Father Peter Lin of the Catholic Apostleship of the Sea.
Also on the team are two Protestants: Deacon Hal Hurley, an Episcopalian, and the Rev. Steve Wright, a Baptist. He could also call on Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist volunteers if he needed.
"We're unlike the typical faith-based organization; we're multifaith," Perkins says. "You don't have to check your religious ID at the door."
Crewmembers who are allowed to leave their ships may visit La Casa, a sort of community center run by Seafarers' House at the port. There, they can find couches, a TV, books, magazines, a small grocery store and online computers. Perkins has also moved a statuette of Mary — an important lens of faith for Filipinos — from the center's small chapel out to the rec center.
Seafarers' House can even drive the mariners there, via its three or four vans that shuttle people around Port Everglades. The free service carries about 75,000 passengers around the sprawling port every year, Perkins says.
Details are still sketchy in some parts of the storm-struck Philippines, especially south of Cebu City. But news reports are cause enough for dread: more than 3,631 dead and 12,000+ injured, with some cities leveled as if pattern-bombed.
Many of the crewmembers fear that their families have lost their homes and loved ones to Typhoon Yolanda, as Haiyan is called in the Philippines. One mariner told Seafarers' House that he lost 30 members of his family.
"There's a lot of suffering in that community," Lesley Warrick says. "Each Mass reconnects them with their faith. And it provides a priest to talk to them about the horrific thing that's happened."
Perkins says he has seen "tremendous relief" when his team gathers crewmembers to pray. "It's a calming of their soul, asking the Lord's intervention for the lives of their people. They recognize that people outside the Philippines care about them."
"I'm just honored that we can provide resources and spiritual refuge and pastoral care to minister to them."
Those who wish to donate to the work of Seafarers' House may do so through this link or by calling toll free: 1-800-732-6367.
James D. Davis