Pope Francis gave priests who minister to seafarers special permission to grant absolution for sins that usually would require the intervention of a bishop or the Vatican itself.
"I want to say something about peace in one's heart," the pope said June 27 during a meeting with chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea working at European ports.
"Many seafarers come or will come to priest chaplains with problems on their conscience that make them suffer a lot because they have never had a chance to deal with them," the pope said, departing from his prepared text.
"In these situations, far from home, from their countries, in these situations that we have described, perhaps a dialogue with the chaplain will open a horizon of hope," the pope said.
"Be merciful. Be merciful," Pope Francis told the chaplains.
"To help you with this mercy," he said, "I concede to all seafarer chaplains the same permissions that I gave to the 'missionaries of mercy' so that you can help many hearts find interior peace."
The "missionaries of mercy" were priests chosen by the Vatican for the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy to preach about God's mercy and, especially, to encourage Catholics to rediscover the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation.
In a permission later extended to all priests, Pope Francis granted them the power to absolve penitents who regretted having an abortion or playing a role in someone's decision to have an abortion. He also authorized them to lift some penalties imposed by canon law.
Through the chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea, the Catholic Church gives support and solace to a group of workers facing constant danger and frequent exploitation, Pope Francis told the group.
While sailors and fishermen deliver the goods people rely on every day, they face the seafaring dangers of storms and piracy, long periods of time away from their families and working conditions that are often harsh and low-paying, the pope told chaplains and volunteers working at ports across Europe.
"Without sailors, the global economy would come to a standstill; and without fishermen, many parts of the world would starve," the pope said.
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, urged parishes to support Sea Sunday, on 14 July, when Christian churches of all denominations remember and pray for seafarers, giving thanks for their lives and work.
Cardinal Nichols recently visited the Liverpool Seafarers Centre headquarters in Crosby to learn about the support it delivers to 50,000 seafarers passing through the Port of Liverpool each year.
Cardinal Nichols, who grew up in Crosby, said Sea Sunday offered a terrific opportunity to recognise the role of seafarers.
He said: “It is wonderful to know that the centre is there to respond to the needs of seafarers, with practical and spiritual support, and I really do want to thank them. Seafarers have long been synonymous with the city of Liverpool being part of the fabric and identity of the city. But more importantly, they play a fundamental role in each of our lives, with 95pc of British imports and exports transported by sea.
“When I visited Tilbury Docks a few years ago where I saw first-hand the confined quarters in which seafarers live. all the dangerous edges they negotiate, with huge amounts of heavy equipment and other machinery. I was surprised to learn about the speed with which ships turn around and the limited opportunities crew members have to get off the ships and to do the things you can’t do on ships, such as go to church, shop, get medical attention and contact their families.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, paid tribute to all those working on the sea in often dangerous conditions.
He said: “There are thousands of ships crossing the world’s oceans, every moment of every day. They carry everything from passengers on holiday, to the food we eat, to cars, household furniture and all manner of freight. Brave and highly skilled women and men work long hours, often in dangerous conditions to crew these ships. We are so grateful. The Lord Jesus Christ knew all about the sea: the storms and the raging waters.”
Dr Sentamu also praised those who devote their time to the welfare of workers through the ecumenical charity, Liverpool Seafarers Centre. “Thank you to those who volunteer and work for the Liverpool Seafarers Centre, welcoming and caring for seafarers who sail into and out of the
Mersey each day,” he said. “In the name of God they provide stillness, calmness, tranquillity and peace. A place of welcome – a brief stopover to call home.”
Liverpool Seafarers Centre CEO John Wilson said the centre relies on the support of parishes to undertake its work.