Stella Maris, Listening in Every Language

From 354 Visited Ships, 6,411 seafarers Met Father Vincenzo Tomaiuoli

The world is a seafarers’ home. And its conflicts have concrete impacts on the lives of these workers of the sea. He sees it every day, Father Vincenzo Tomaiuoli, a Scalabrinian who has been Director of the Pastoral Care of Migrants and the Apostleship of the Sea in the diocese since 2022. “If until last year the main concern of seafarers was Covid,” he explains, “because there were many restrictions and few vaccines in their countries, now the problem is the closure of the Suez Canal. Some have told of being bombed on their ships. But more importantly, the closing of the canal means longer shipping routes and, as a result, more time away from family.”

It is a port in the middle of the sea at Stella Maris, the reception center for seafarers that Father Vincent runs together with 13 volunteers and Ronel Galzote, who has moved from being a volunteer to permanently managing the reception at the center.

Here, those who disembark from the merchant ships docked at the port of Ravenna, can find information about the city, some refreshments, free wi-fi, and someone to listen to them. The seafarers met by Father Vincenzo come mostly from Southeast Asia: “The most represented nationality is Filipinos (1608), followed by Turks (1054) and then Indians, Croatians.”

In addition to the reception at the Stella Maris center, there is also the great work of visiting ships in port, which is a kind of “hook” to understand the real needs of seafarers. In 2023, 354 ships were visited, about four per day, with a total of 6,411 seafarers met on board and another 1,991 in the Stella Maris center. A constantly growing number of services, precisely because of the presence of volunteers.

People from warring countries coexist on board: there are many ships with Ukrainians and Russians in their crew. But the unwritten rule is “not to talk about politics,” Father Vincent tells us. It is difficult to talk about oneself on board. The climate is not always relaxed: “Even just exchanging a few jokes with a priest can be interpreted as a sign of difficulty,” Father Vincenzo says. “We usually make contact and invite them to come down and meet at Stella Maris. It is there that those who need confession or some spiritual need, feel freer to ask. “But we have also celebrated about 20 Masses on board.”


Charity at sea rhymes with listening, and getting alongside. There is no “sport” to hand out, no material goods to donate. The assistance that Father Vincent and the volunteers offer “trains” the ears and the heart more than the arms. From February 2022 onward, Stella Maris has been transformed into another Stella Maris Center, Father Vincent with point Caritas: in collaboration with the Malva association, 55 families of Ukrainians who arrived in Ravenna after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine have been supported, and still, once a month, food parcels are distributed here to those who remained and also to the destitute in the area. “The collaboration with the Seafarers’ Welfare Committee was fundamental,” Father Vincenzo explains. “With them, we were able to take charge of the most difficult situations, for example when a seafarer had been injured.” The next frontier of reception? “If we had some more strength,” Father Vincenzo concludes, “I would like to be able to accompany people arriving at the future maritime station. With the cruises they also disembark 5,000 people a day, 800 of whom are workers on the ships. They too need support, help, and listening.”


Migrants. Ronel, Filipino, Welcomes Them to the Center: “Only 20 percent get off ships” Seafarers also Visit Ravenna Mosaics


There is also time for some tourism for seafarers landing at the port of Ravenna. It is one of the most common requests to those who welcome them to the Stella Maris Center on Via Paolo Costa: What can I visit here? Ronel Galzote, who has been permanently responsible for welcoming migrants since last autumn, provides all the information for visiting the splendid mosaics of Ravenna. “For some, it also becomes an opportunity for a spiritual experience – he explains -. Then they ask us for logistical information, on where to find a supermarket or other services they need.”

Ronel has been in Italy for 30 years now. He arrived in 1993 from the Philippines, following his brother who had arrived a few years earlier. «I did everything. In the beginning, I lived with the elderly man I looked after – he says – then I spent the seasons in Cervia, first in a restaurant, then in a hotel and I also worked in the countryside.” He is happy in Ravenna: he is married and has two children, “one graduated from the Polytechnic of Milan and the other studies engineering in Pisa,” he explains proudly. He attends the parish of San Vitale and has been a volunteer in Stella Maris for years. Hence Father Vincenzo’s idea of ​​offering him a job: welcoming migrants, as a migrant. “Twice a week I go on the ships, I talk to the seafarers – he explains – and I ask if they need spiritual assistance (in the photo a Mass on board). In the afternoon, from 5 pm onwards, I take care of the transport of seafarers who want to come to Stella Maris and then welcome them here.” In four months, he says, “I met people of 51 different nationalities.” For them, Stella Maris is a landing place, a point of reference for experiencing the city even just for a few hours. “It’s a bit like America, where you find what you need. We chat and there is time for a game of billiards and ping-pong.”

On board, however, life is hard. Only 10 or 20% of seafarers leave the ships, and most remain on board for many months, says Ronel: “Asians often complain of discrimination. And the work is repetitive and often underpaid. They work, on average, 12 hours a day. Or even more: every four hours he alternates in the same role with a colleague. The only ‘escape’ allowed is the one with the internet. They also connect from the ship. But going down is another story.”