In the specific service offered to the people of the sea, and in the setting of such pastoral care, how important is the Scalabrinian charism?

In the specific service to the people of the sea, the Scalabrinian charism is important because of the fidelity to the founder St. John Baptist Scalabrini who, from the very beginning, sent his missionaries by ship, asking them to welcome and serve emigrants in their needs, especially by celebrating the Holy Eucharist and teaching catechism on board. 

Currently, the charism is important because, following the intuition of the Holy Founder, we continue to serve the sailors, “eternal migrants” in port, with enthusiasm and joy by living and witnessing our faith. We serve indiscriminately by faith, race and culture, in the spirit of a fraternal and humane welcome attentive to the urgencies of the moment and looking to the future … having new and forward-looking eyes is the key to the importance of the Scalabrinian charism. During the pandemic everything got complicated, but by combining modern and ancient means we managed to offer our service: praying from the dock in the harbor together with the sailors on board ship; with the old and always valid system of the basket tied to a rope, many times we managed to offer them the lunches they craved.

From a spiritual and religious point of view, inspiring ourselves with St. Scalabrini, the attention and deep respect for the person still allow us each to pray and thank our God.

In these 25 years, what are the most complicated situations you have faced? Equal instead those with positive outcomes?

The most complicated situations are those involving health problems (work accidents), quarrels among sailors, and labor contract issues. One of the most delicate moments is that of a Filipino sailor who was injured off the coast of Africa and was only taken to the hospital when he arrived here in Rio de Janeiro. While in the cargo hold, the cargo being transported moved, hitting him in the head. The captain medicated him daily, and when he arrived at the hospital, he received as many as 159 stitches around his head and face! He wanted to return home quickly, but doing so would have caused him to lose his work rights; we accompanied him for two months so that he could have the best possible recovery before returning home, where he continued his recovery for several months.

Another case involves a sailor who was retiring and, from Rio de Janeiro, was returning to the Philippines on an Air France flight. The plane unfortunately crashed and we accompanied four family members who had come to collect DNA and proceed with the recognition of the body. It was a very difficult moment: the joy of finally being able to be, after thirty-five years at sea, with loved ones was unfortunately tragically cut short.

Another very sad case is that of two sailors who, injured after fighting with each other and after two months in prison and five in different hotels, came to the “stella maris” center every other day to communicate with their families. Together with ITF we followed up on the contractual situation with the company and eventually they returned home. After a few months they wrote to me happy that they were back on board.

The best case of all involved a sailor who did not know how to use email! After two hours of explanation and contact with his fifteen-year-old son, we helped him set up his own email account. Thus, for the first time, he was able to see the photo of his six-month-old daughter, and after a few days, we were able to activate Skype. Connecting, he heard his daughter crying and sobbing while breastfeeding. As a priest, I cannot know fatherhood, but in those days I discovered and experienced the excitement of being a father. Other beautiful cases are mainly about solving problems related to contracts, such as late payment of salaries, insufficient food on board, managing the sending of remittances so as not to lose the home in the home country.

From the religious point of view, important moments concern living participation when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and ecumenical celebrations that allow us to experience fraternity, friendship and Christian solidarity.

Does the multicultural trait of the maritime workforce still represent one of the most significant challenges facing the maritime apostolate?

We can say that the world in general has become very multicultural, this situation, however, in the maritime way is felt even more strongly, because physical spaces are very small and as a logical consequence multicultural frictions do a lot of harm. Let’s start with a very simple but extremely important example: food. If the cook is Chinese, but there are also three or four other nationalities on board, what food will be favored? Will the cultural traditions of my country be respected or erased? Not having the food one prefers negatively affects one’s physique and mood, and therefore how one will experience the day. Here, in the face of these issues the sea apostolate tries to respond by welcoming and respecting all these situations. It is a great and continuous challenge that pushes us to the meeting of the sailor not as a workforce but as a man and as a person, who wants to feel the air of home even if he is on the other side of the world.

Are there new paths/approaches to the performance of this service that you think should be implemented?

I don’t think we need to “invent the wheel,” but I think we need to learn how to use it in new ways! Challenges are always great: the reduced time in port and the cultural and human level of sailors must stimulate us to make better use of modernity! New means of communication make it easier for us to maintain relationships with sailors; something that was almost impossible years ago. This also allows us a relationship with their family members so that we can form a sincere friendship and have a greater impact in their lives, whether in a human or Christian sense or even in interfaith or ecumenical friendship. We cannot forget a calm and firm dialogue with ship owners and unions, because we must always put man and his family at the center of everything. In conclusion, it seems to me that the most important thing is to learn to love every day the situations we encounter, as Jesus taught us, to give happiness and joy to them and also to us, to feel that we are a drop of water that moves the ocean of fraternity and justice in a world where it is easily forgotten that being a person is more important than profit.

Fr. Cesare Ciceri, born in Senago (Milan) on 11 June 1962, has been a priest since 1993 and was destined for Brazil (old São Paulo Province, now Our Lady Mother of Migrants Region). When he arrived in São Paulo, he lived at the orphanage to study Portuguese, then carried out missionary service at the Church of Peace (baixada do glicerio centre São Paulo); at Our Lady of Grace in Vicente de Carvalho (GUARUJÁ/ São Paulo); in Sobradinho at the Bom Jesus parish (Brasilia), Palmas base community (Tocantins). From 2002 to 2007 he served in Framingham USA, with the Brazilian, Portuguese, Italian and American communities. Since 2007 he has been in Rio de Janeiro as director and chaplain of Stella Maris, to which he has added his service as parish priest of Santa Cecilia and St. Pius X since 2012.