Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Montreal Port Chaplains Reach out to Seafarers Spending Christmas Far from Home

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Montreal Port Chaplains Reach out to Seafarers Spending Christmas Far from Home

Article excerpt

Chaplains reach out to seamen in Montreal's port


MONTREAL - Michelle DePooter carries a box of Christmas gifts to the foot of the MSC Matilde, setting it down at the bottom of the ramp before a man in coveralls invites her aboard.

Wearing a reflective safety vest and a bright pink hard hat jammed over a Port of Montreal toque, she looks more like a dock worker than a chaplain.

But in the port terminals and aboard container ships like the 300-metre-long Matilde, she's a familiar face.

DePooter, 38, is one of two chaplains for the Ministry to Seafarers, an outreach mission of the Christian Reformed Church that operates out of Montreal's port.

All year round, she and fellow chaplain David Rozeboom visit each of the 50 to 80 ships that arrive in Montreal each month, providing both practical and spiritual support to their crews, most of whom come from low-income communities in India, the Philippines or Eastern Europe.

Between Nov. 25 and Christmas, they also deliver about 1,500 Christmas gifts -- one for each seafarer to dock in Montreal. The gifts, assembled mostly by churches in Ontario, contain socks and hats, maybe a deck of cards and a few souvenirs.

DePooter works out of Mariners' House, a clubhouse funded by the port and shipping community that provides seafarers a place to relax and unwind.

There, they can shoot some pool, surf the internet, lounge on couches or visit the clubhouse's chapel, where both DePooter's group and a Catholic chaplain offer services.

DePooter says ship workers live a challenging life that requires them to be away from home for six to nine months at time while contending with bad weather, workplace danger and loneliness.

She says the ministry's goal is to support a group of people who are often forgotten or negatively stereotyped.

"They're away from their homes and their families for months at a time, and often lonely and isolated," she says in an interview.

"To be able to provide a listening ear, somebody different they can talk to, a place where they are recognized as people, as not a forgotten entity ... it's very important."

Back aboard the MSC Matilde, the ship's crew seems more interested in technological, rather than spiritual, concerns. …

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