The Maritime Congress recently held at Sables d'Olonne, Vendee, under the Presidency of the Bishop of Lucan and organised by the Federation of French Sea Apostolate Organisations was rendered notable by the presence of delegates of the International Apostolatus Mans Council, AMIC, from Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Ireland, Spain and Poland, and also by the ceremonies of the Blessing of the Sea and of the fishing fleet.
Mgr. Myers, Bishop of Lamus, and Vice-Admiral D.S.O., Chairman of AMIC, led the delegation from Great Britain, which included Frs. Arnaud, A.A., and Blundell, O.S.B. Messrs. Bond, Ebel, Harrington, Hayes, McClymont and Gannon (International Organising Secretary).
The chief business of the AMIC meetings, at which the discussions were held in English and in French, was to arrange for an intensive application of Catholic Action amongst seafarers in all countries. The delegates followed with interest the plea for immediate action proposed by the Rev. Dr. Brugada of Barcelona when he described the tragic consequence of Communist activities in Spain, and the various national delegations supported the proposal to organise the seafarers, within their own countries, for Catholic Action.
The international meetings occupied only a small part of the Congress. For three days the problems of the French seafarers, with relations to family life, were discussed by priests and laymen from almost every port in France. The dominant personality in these discussions was Pere Lebret, 0.P., himself formerly a seaman, author of several books on the French Sea Apostolate.
Economic conditions make it almost impossible for the fishermen of France to exist, much less to establish their families and inculcate in their children the full spirit of Catholicism and a love for their profession as seafarers. One priest told of the ravages of tuberculosis amongst the ill-nourished children of French fishermen; another cited the case of a fisherman who had to try to maintain his family of twelve persons on 75 francs a month.
Admiral Hornell, surveying the world position of Apostolatus Mans, spoke of the unparalleled opportunities given to Catholics in working together for the peace of the world in this essentially international apostolate.
The Bishop of Lamus paid tribute to the zeal and courage with which the French Sea Apostolate workers were dealing with their serious problems, and he ended a stirring address by proclaiming the paramount need for still more optimism.
The Blessing of the Sea
The Congress ended with the splendid ceremonies of the Blessing of the Sea. After Pontifical Mass in the church of Notre Dame, Mgr. Myers carried the monstrance along the narrow cobbled streets, in which every house was decorated with flags and flowers, accompanied by a procession of children, fishermen and Congress delegates, to a hill overlooking the sea, and from there gave Benediction to the kneeling crowds.
As the Blessed Sacrament passed along, men and women knelt in the streets; at one point a temporary altar had been erected and Benediction was given from there to hundreds of worshippers. The white coifs of the Vendeean womenfolk, the banners of the fishermen's guilds, the uniforms of naval officers, and the gala dress of the children, made a singularly picturesque and impressive picture.
Sables d'Olonne is the chief sardine and tunny fishing port in France, and a fleet of some sixty vessels put out to sea, later, with Mgr. Gamier, Bishop of Lucon, and Mgr. Myers on board two of the most brightly festooned vessels. The prelates blessed the sea and the ships and from sea and shore arose the strains of Ave Mans Stella and other hymns.
The procession of the ships circled round the warship which had been sent from Brest for the Fete de la Mer: the bugles sounding salute as the fishing boats passed. The chanting of De Profundis by the priests, for the seamen who had found their last resting-place beneath the waves, was the most moving part of the ceremonies held on the sea itself.
Finally, there was an excursion to Noirmoutier, a tidal island approachable only at low water by a causeway five kilometres long. At the luncheon there, Mgr. Myers, Admiral Hornell and Mr. Gannon expressed the gratitude of the International Council to Pere Chardavoine and the local organisers of this notably constructive Congress. On all sides one heard expressions of admiration for the eloquence and the endurance of the Bishop of Lamus: not only did Mgr. Myers pontificate at the Congress Mass and preach, but also he attended most of the French and international meetings and assisted in the discussions.
Next year's Congress will be held at Antwerp.