Catholic San Francisco


(Courtesy photo)

Holy Child Sister Joanna Okereke pictured with her are students Michael and Marina Belfiore, great-grandchildren of an Italian immigrant fisherman who made his living for many years fishing out of San Francisco.

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Ministry to seafarers seeks volunteers
July 12th, 2016
By Catholic San Francisco

The national Catholic ministry for people who work on the sea needs volunteers to serve in the Archdiocese of San Francisco – an ideal opportunity to step up to Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy call to bring Christ to people on the margins.

That’s the message of Sister Joanna Okereke, HHCJ, from the U.S. bishops’ conference, who made stops in the archdiocese last month on a tour of maritime ministry services in West Coast port cities.

Sister Joanna is assistant director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers. She is the bishops’ point person for the Apostleship of the Sea, the professional association of Catholic seafarers and maritime ministers, which provides chaplains at 53 ports in 26 states for mariners, fishermen and their families, and all who work or travel on the world’s waterways.

Marine ministry on San Francisco Bay is based at the International Maritime Center at Port of Oakland, which is served by a priest and volunteers from the Diocese of Oakland. Catholic services include Masses, one-to-one ministry for containership crews far from home and family and transportation to and from marine terminals for shopping and other necessities.

“They want Mass,” Sister Joanna said. “We get many young ones.”

Sister Joanna said financial and volunteer support for the Oakland center is needed and welcome from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where the Apostleship of the Sea on a Rincon Hill now studded with high-rise housing closed in 1995 after 63 years as a mariners’ home away from home.

“We want people to be able to donate, to run the center (and) to show hospitality to a stranger by coming in to volunteer,” Sister Joanna said.

Full- or part-time volunteers are needed and assistance will be provided to obtain the necessary security clearance to board ships.

Sister Joanna said half of the world’s maritime crews are Catholic, and the Catholic Church is the largest provider of ministry services.

Pietro Parravano, a salmon and crab fisherman in Half Moon Bay and San Mateo County Harbor District Commissioner, said maritime ministry is in keeping with Pope Francis’ focus on refugees and others on the margins. “We’re a common home,” he said.

The annual National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea was celebrated May 23. The day is observed in conjunction with National Maritime Day in the United States, which has been celebrated since 1933, to recognize merchant mariners and others in the maritime industry.

“In this Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, may we bring the opportunity of encountering the mercy of God to our brothers and sisters who are seafarers, fishermen, and those whose occupations require them to spend most of the year away from their families, in the high seas, and sometimes facing dangerous situations,” Bishop J. Kevin Boland, retired bishop of Savannah, Georgia, and Apostleship of the Sea promoter, said in a U.S. bishops’ news release. “They too are our brothers and sisters with spiritual needs, may we accompany them in their joys and trials in life, so they may also grow in faith and understanding of God’s love.”

Visit or email Sister Joanna at

From July 14, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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