The Bishop's Christmas message

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"I just love and am always struck by the fact that God, the all-powerful creator, humbly asks a young woman, from a back-water little village called Nazareth, to be the mother of his son, Jesus, who is to be the Saviour of the world, and then patiently waits for her response. God loves and respects Mary, his young, humble handmaid, so much that he waits for her free response! So it is with us, God who loves and respects each of us, waits too for our response to his invitation to enter freely into a deep personal relationship with him.

"At first Mary’s heart is ‘deeply troubled’ and full of questions about what God is asking of her. It is also good and natural for us to ask questions of God but, as we see with Mary, there does come a time when our questioning, our being ‘deeply troubled’, needs to give way to a deeper trust in God. So Mary says to the angel Gabriel: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me’. As with Mary, so with each of us, God is always inviting us into a deeper personal relationship with him. The truth is, however, that fear or anxiety can so often hold us back from entrusting our lives into the hands of God. We see what God has done in Mary’s life, we see what God has done in the lives of the great saints of our time, and of all times, in the life of the Church. Through them, and maybe also through personal glimpses of God working in our own lives, we all know something of just what God is capable of when people entrust their lives into his hands, but still we hold back!

"The invitation from God to Mary was to trust him, and to entrust her life into his hands, because, as the angel reminded Mary, ‘nothing is impossible to God’, for even her cousin Elizabeth has, in her older age, given birth to a child. So Mary teaches us that God challenges each of us to be more open to him, more trusting, more willing to entrust our lives into his hands. And God does not challenge us, as he did Mary, as he does at times in our own lives, without offering us the support, the help of his grace, his love, in our lives – the same grace that enabled Mary to say to God, ‘let what you have said be done to me’, and to keep faithful to that commitment throughout her life.

"Mary was at first ‘deeply troubled’ by what God was asking of her, but soon we find Mary freely entrusting her life into the hands of God, and experiencing the deep sense of peace that goes with that. Mary has, therefore, much to teach us about entrusting our lives afresh this Christmas into the hands of God. Just as Jesus was born to Mary that first Christmas, so may Jesus be born anew this Christmas in all our hearts and lives.

"A blessed and happy Christmas to you and to all your loved ones!

+Patrick
Rt. Rev. Patrick McKinney,
Bishop of Nottingham."

Sea Sunday (which this year falls on 11th July) is a special time for Stella Maris (formerly called Apostleship of the Sea), the official maritime welfare agency of the Catholic Church. This is the day every year when the church celebrates and prays for all those who live and work at sea.

As a global maritime charity, Stella Maris has been playing a crucial role in supporting seafarers and fishers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is continuing to offer spiritual and practical help to those most in need.

It has been well-documented how India has been struggling with a devastating second wave of coronavirus. Thousands have been dying on the streets as hospitals there find themselves running out of oxygen.

Now, though, more than 1,000 Indian seafarers’ families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will benefit from support in the port of Cochin.

Through Stella Maris’s involvement, 10 oxygenators are being purchased. This will prevent an estimated 60 lives a month being lost to the virus, amid a drastic shortage of oxygen tanks in hospitals.

With the charity’s and its donors’ support, 1,100 food parcels are also being purchased and distributed to seafarers’ families in Cochin devastated by COVID-19. Each parcel is sufficient to feed a family of five for one month.

Pandemic precautions in the United Kingdom have also led to the charity adopting different approaches to its work with seafarers and fishers around the UK.

For example, Stella Maris chaplains have delivered welfare packages to vessels’ gangways or via rope links to ships (see photo) to maintain social distancing protocols. These packages comprise essentials such as PPE equipment, clothing, toiletries and foodstuffs.

Seafarers have expressed their gratitude for being able to stay in touch with their families, through Stella Maris’ provision of internet access in ports thanks to Wi-Fi Units.

When this has not been possible, top-up cards for mobile phones have been provided to seafarers by the charity. These have been invaluable to seafarers. Captain Flover Santos, the Master of a tanker, expressed his thanks, when Stella Maris in Tees port provided top-up cards to the crew who were not allowed to leave their ship to go ashore at any of the ports at which they were calling.

“You help us to connect with our families. You guys are truly friends, and an instrument of God,” he said.

Seafarers need help now more than ever. A survey Stella Maris conducted found that 69% of seafarers suffered significant financial impact during the pandemic.

Almost half said they support three or more people with their income, and their top concern was feeding their families.

Financial worries like these and the stress that thousands face from having to spend more than a year on board due to extended contracts or, on the other hand, not having any work at all, has had a negative effect on their mental, emotional, and psychological wellbeing.

Adrian Gannon, Director of Development at Stella Maris, has appealed to Catholics throughout the United Kingdom to support Sea Sunday.

He said: “On Sea Sunday this year, we will thank God for the seafarers and fishers who have kept food and medical supplies moving during the pandemic and for the sacrifices they have made over the last year to supply our provisions.

“We will pray to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, to protect them in harsh conditions at sea and from coronavirus.

“We respectfully appeal to readers to support our ministry with fishers and seafarers at this critical time by praying for them on Sea Sunday and kindly making a donation to support our work through our website: www.stellamaris.org.uk/donate/. We will be especially grateful for any support you can kindly provide.”