Port Chaplaincy finds new ways to form ‘Fishers of Men’

November 24, 2015

HOUSTON — As Jesus instructs each of his followers to make disciples of all nations, to be “fishers of men,” the Gospel message is to be delivered to all ends of the earth — land, air and sea. The Port Chaplaincy of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is following this command by offering sacramental and pastoral care to the Catholic seafarers from around the world who enter the ports in Galveston, Barbour’s Cut and the Port of Houston.

The Port Chaplaincy, which is funded by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), is one of several interfaith ministries located at the center, working alongside Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterians and other non-denominational chaplains and the Board of Seafarers to manage and operate the facilities. 

Father Jan Kubisa has been Port Chaplain at the largest center, the Houston International Seafarers’ Center located at the Port of Houston, for 11 years. He worked closely with his predecessor, Father Rivers A. Patout, who was one of the original founders that ministered at the center for over 45 years. Father Patout passed away June 2, 2014.

Based on the current needs of the visiting seafarers who are spending less time at port than before and more time out at sea, Father Kubisa believes the chaplains need to find more efficient ways to minister on board the vessel. He is pleased to report that they have been successful in their efforts to celebrate Mass on as many vessels as possible during his tenure.

“It is very significant when these men say, ‘Father, we’re so happy to have this Mass for the first time in many months,’” said Father Kubisa. “If you put this revealing admission in the right context, you realize that most ports are unable to offer Mass to seafarers, and our ministry is one of the few continuously able to accomplish this. Let us not forget that for many sailors, a homily delivered during that Mass may be the only pastoral, faith-related experience in their lives for a long time.”

Father Kubisa said this “new reality” calls on the chaplains to create more relevant materials that will help nurture the faith of seafarers while at sea, which also will help with the shortage of current materials available at the port due to the large numbers of ships arriving in Houston.
“Many of these men have much more time to connect to their faith while at sea, sometimes for several weeks away from land, which can be done through reading and prayer,” said Father Kubisa. “I am pleased we are able to offer Rosaries and prayer cards that have been made available by several local and worldwide organizations. With the increased demand for Rosaries, we can always use more.”

Reaching across language and cultural barriers is no problem for these chaplains. Father Kubisa is a native of Poland, allowing him to directly communicate with the Polish and Russian-speaking seafarers who represent 30 percent of those visiting the Port of Houston. Father Carlos LaTorre is from the Philippines and communicates directly with the sailors from his country, amounting to 50-percent of those visiting. Deacon Allan Frederiksen can relate to the men’s life experiences and specific needs as sailors since he was formerly a ship captain himself for many years.

The day-to-day life for these chaplains, seven-days a week, includes providing pastoral care, such as Mass, Communion, confession, spiritual guidance and counseling. They also provide for the seafarers’ material needs, such as communication with their families via the Internet, sim cards and telephone cards.

“We also arrange transportation to the two seafarers’ centers in Houston and Galveston, and sometimes to various shopping venues,” said Father Kubisa. “We provide annual school training for chaplains from all over North America and overseas. Annually, we also deliver about 12,000 Christmas gifts to seafarers of all nationalities and religions.”

Another area that is being modified is the facility itself. The center is moving to a new facility due to the age and condition of the current building. 

“This building has been serving the ministry for over 40 years and recent repairs put a lot of pressure on finances for the management,” said Father Kubisa. “Since it was built, it has been the largest seafarers’ center in America, according to Father Patout, the original founder.”
Father Kubisa believes the relocation of the Port Chaplaincy to a new improved facility and the redirection of its outreach services will better enable them to meet the current spiritual and corporeal needs of the seafarers. Something they can carry with them, whether on land, air or sea.