Catholic Church seeks to help victims of pirates
By Alan Holdren
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.- Officials at the Vatican just concluded a meeting to look at ways to meet the spiritual, material and psychological needs of sailors involved in pirate attacks.

From Feb. 14-16, the Vatican hosted the annual meeting of regional coordinators of the Apostleship of the Sea in the offices of the Pontifical Council for the Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.

The yearly encounter is held to improve and update the pastoral ministry of the Church to seafarers, fishermen and their familiies.

According to a press release from the Apostleship, the meetings' main area of focus this year was on the preparation of crews for encounters with pirates.

The International Maritime Bureau reported that a record 1,181 hostages were held by pirates in 2010. Pirate attacks on merchant vessels also hit a seven-year high in 2010 and those assaults resulted in the deaths of eight sailors.

Experts, such as Admiral Marco Brusco, Commandant General of the Corps of Port Captains and the Italian Coast Guard, took part in the gathering. He spoke to the Apostolate about how it might help seafarers and their families prepare for a possible run-in with pirates.

Admiral Brusco, as a member of the Italian national chapter of the Apostleship himself, advised the coordinators on how they can aid victims and their families in recovering from such encounters.

Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Vatican's department for people “on the move,” told Vatican Radio on Feb. 13 that “while shipping companies take care most of all ... of the ships and its load, the Apostolate of the Sea concerns itself with the members of the crew and the psychological effects that this tramatic experience can have on them and their families.”

The three-day meeting also took on the question of criminalization of sailors and fishermen who are sometimes unjustly detained in foreign lands only to face long periods under arrest and, therefore, separated from their families.

Archbishop Veglio said that in cases of piracy and detention, “the presence of the Apostleship of the Sea becomes irreplaceable for providing spiritual, material and psychological support to the persons involved.”

Other themes addressed during the meetings were ways to use new technology to maintain contact between those who work at sea and their families and how to improve ministry for passengers and crews on cruise ships.

The Apostleship of the Sea, which just celebrated its 90th anniversary last year, is present in ports throughout the world in its "Stella Maris" centers.

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