Stella Maris, a Home Away from Home for Seafarers in Lockdown in Manila

In his report, the Scalabrinian Father Prigol returns to recounting challenges and emergencies from the Scalabrinian centers in the Philippines

Manila, August 7, 2020 – Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, on March 16, 2020, the Philippine government decreed forced quarantine for the entire island of Luzon, where the capital Manila is located. Initially set until the 12th of April of 2020 as Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), on June 1st the measure was reduced to General Community Quarantine (GCQ) and as such was then extended until July 15.

In an unprecedented crisis, the Scalabrini and Stella Maris centers in the area supported seafarers and their families in the various phases of the lockdown. Once again it’s Fr. Paulo Prigol, Scalabrinian missionary Coordinator of the Apostleship of the Sea for South-East Asia and Director of the Scalabrini Center for People on the Move (SCPM) that talks about the challenges and emergencies that had to be faced in these tough months of quarantine.

The 120 Days of lockdown report clearly distinguishes two phases: that of the emergency response and that in which some difficulties for the Stella Maris in Manila were better outlined.

“There is No Plan B”

In the first phase, during which it was necessary to focus on sea workers and their families, it was possible to assist more than one hundred and twenty seafarers for two months by providing them with meals, lodging, and basic necessities.

When we talk about seafarers and families, we must mean both seafarers who have been stranded in the city together with their families (who, unable to work, they cannot provide) as well as their families who have been stranded abroad (left without any resources). The seafarers were provided with Gift Certificates worth $ 50 each for the purchase of food and medicine: thanks to the collaboration, among others, with International Seafarers’ Welfare & Assistance Network (ISWAN) and Caritas Manila. It was possible to reach nearly 3,000 people in the Luzon area.

In recent weeks the staff of the Scalabrini and Stella Maris centers has been able to conduct some surveys (three, to be precise) among the people hosted. The workers interviewed between April and May were asked if they intend to continue working in the maritime sector and more than half (with a percentage that went from 58.5 to 64%) replied no, even if for many there are no real alternatives (one of the seafarers would have replied “There is no plan B”).

“You Are Not Alone”

“Seafarers sacrifice themselves and their families and for this, they are called ‘heroes and key workers’, but Covid-19 is instilling in the minds of many people the idea that they are the ‘carriers’ of the virus – reads the report, in the analysis of the second phase – As the Stella Maris and Scalabrini network, we are working hard to combat this prejudice.”

It is a stigma that affects seafarers’ families in the same way, thus adding a problem to the problem: soon the family will run out of money to meet basic needs and the head of the family will not be able to find a new job.

You are not alone. Nobody will abandon you,” stated Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, in his message on the occasion of Sea Sunday of July 12, 2020. These are also the words with which Fr. Prigol’s report ends, to reiterate that the Chaplains of the Stella Maris are and they will always be close to the seafarers.

It is precisely for seafarers, fishermen, victims of trafficking and their families that Pope Francis, with a video made in collaboration with the Apostleship of the Sea / Stella Maris, asks the whole Church to pray during this August. “Stella Maris is committed not only to recognizing that seafarers are key workers – concludes Fr. Prigol in the report – but to being for them ‘a home away from home.’ Thanks again to all our supporters.”