PARSONS: Family love beyond borders

December 22, 2020

In our world, there are all kinds of families. The families I deal with the most in my ministry to seafarers are far from each other. Fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, sisters, mothers, wives and daughters sign contracts to sail away from their families so that their families may have better lives.

For nearly 36 years, I have conversed with tens of thousands of seafarers who have left their families behind to sail the world. You can imagine all the different family dynamics that have been discussed over the years, from an overbearing mother pressuring a young seafaring son to get married to husbands who are notified their beautiful wife has died giving birth while he was in the middle of the ocean.

I have been involved in many hours of listening to marriage problems, frustration over teenage children not listening to advice, heartache over being far away from sick children or aging parents. Family is family no matter if you live on the same street or half a world away.

One thing I have learned over the years of visiting seafarers and talking with them about family is that we are all connected. My actions affect them; their actions affect me. I have had countless cups of tea with seafarers whose hearts are broken because they are not home during a crisis. My heart broke with theirs.

During this pandemic, many seafarers have been stuck at sea with no way to go home due to companies being afraid the relievers may bring COVID-19 on board, airports being closed to international flights, or port states not allowing seafarers to come ashore to get to airports to fly home. And for every seafarer stuck on a ship is a seafarer stuck at home unable to join a ship to make money for his/her family.

This pandemic has been hard on all of us. We were asked to do some simple things to keep each other safe: stay home if possible, wear a mask in public, keep distant from others and wash our hands often. Many people chose not to do these simple things, and the United States soared to number one in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

I have been visiting my brothers and sisters at sea for nearly 36 years. I learned from them that we are all responsible for each other. I am a Secular Franciscan. Following in the steps of St. Francis, who ultimately followed in the steps of Christ, has me deeply caring for others, for the earth, for all of God’s creation. If I chose to be selfish and claim rights and freedoms that infringe on others’ safety and health, then I cannot claim to be a Franciscan nor a Christian.

Our love for humanity must prevail over our love of ourselves. We all want to be with our families this holiday season. Seafarers seldom get that joy their entire careers. Let us think of them as we sacrifice our family time for the good of humanity this holiday season.

On Dec. 31, I will retire as the port chaplain for the ports of Galveston and Texas City. Although I will miss the day-to-day visits with seafarers on the ships and fishers along the coast, I will continue my correspondence ministry with seafarers and their families that I have maintained for 36 years. We are all connected. We are all family.

May our Lord Jesus bless you and keep you safe and well and good. 

Karen M. Parsons, OFS, is a port chaplain with the Apostleship of the Sea.

Editor's Note: The Texas Catholic Herald staff wishes Karen Parsons the best in her retirement and thanks her for her dedication to her ministry and sharing her stories in her columns. Though she is only a recent writer in the last few years, we thank her for writing her columns. Thank you Karen!