Deacon John Archer
Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama
Discover how a Catholic Maritime Ministry is Serving People of the Sea
They are the unseen ones.
They arrive in the Port of Mobile, Alabama, on cargo freighters nearly 1,000 feet long. They load and unload shipping containers, moving tons of freight and advancing a global economy. They are essential to international commerce, and yet they are invisible to most people.
They are the 32,000 seafaring workers who move in and out of the Port of Mobile each year, sailing under flags from Liberia, Vanuatu, Malta, the Isle of Man and other distant corners of the world.
They will spend up to 9 months at sea. Spotty cell service makes regular family contact difficult. Limited shore time, due to a combination of regulatory rules and too much work to be done, makes going to church almost impossible.
These workers may be unnoticed by most, but thanks to Deacon John Archer, they are not alone.
Archer coordinates the Catholic Maritime Ministry in the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama. As a minister of the Apostleship of the Sea, he serves the sailors by fostering their growth and renewal through prayer, study and Christian service. In this way he teaches and witnesses to the Word of God.
“I call it a ‘ministry of passing time’,” Archer said. Aboard these vessels, downtime typically involves sitting around waiting to see who comes aboard. Archer spends much of his time simply being present to the sailors. “We sit together prayerfully for long quiet periods.”
“Eventually,” he said, “The sharing begins and the needs emerge.”
Listening to the mariners’ stories, Archer shares their pain and joy. During a recent visit to one of the vessels in port, Archer noticed a sailor who seemed particularly down.
“I sat with him awhile, and he eventually opened up, sharing that his daughter was heading off to college. Though this would usually be a proud moment for a parent, he was feeling sad that he had missed most of her upbringing living his life at sea.”
“In both hard and happy times, it is a privilege to be present to others.”
Those aboard are rarely able to receive the Sacraments and have limited access to the Church. When Mass and communion services are offered on ship, it has often been many months since the seafarers have last received the Eucharist.
“It is a blessing to celebrate Mass with the officers and crew,” Archer said. “You can really feel the joy they experience in receiving our Lord.”
Recognizing the mariners’ needs are often overlooked, Archer effectively engages the maritime industry in Mobile.
“Most people forget that there’s people on these vessels,” Archer said. “People see the ships. They see the shipping containers. But they do not see those responsible for getting those containers from point A to point B, let alone recognize their immense emotional and spiritual needs due to the isolation that comes with being a person of the sea.”
Through his proactive outreach, he has accessed funding sources and partnered with others to bring support to the needs of seafarers.
Frequently, Archer will provide a free wireless “hot spot” to improve internet access for calls back home. Shopping services are also popular among sailors who can’t leave port due to visa restrictions. For those who can leave, transportation to the mall or the gym rank high on their list.
This ministry allows Archer to put his faith into action and to provide light to those who experience the darkness of loneliness and isolation due to long times away from loved ones. He is a respected presence within the marine community that brings credit to the ministry and facilitates a more impactful difference in the lives of those he serves.
The Lumen Christi Award is proudly presented by Catholic Extension, a non-profit that
provides grants to build the Catholic faith in the poorest areas of the United States.