Home Away from Home

The Stella Maris Seafarers’ Center offers the steady hand of the Catholic Church to those who spend their days on the water

Lake Charles, Louisiana, is a busy shipping port, with tankers and transport ships loading and unloading all types of cargo around the clock. In the midst of the daily imports and exports, the port seems an unlikely place for the Catholic Church to be present. But for thousands who travel by sea year round, transporting goods essential for our way of life, the church is there to greet them, providing a place of refuge and safe haven at the Stella Maris Seafarers’ Center.

Open seven days a week, the center is part of the Diocese of Lake Charles Apostleship of the Sea, the only ministry of its kind that serves a unique group of parishioners – seafarers from countries all over the world looking for a welcoming place of peace and comfort. “They represent all different nationalities and religions,” said Rev. Deacon Patrick LaPoint, “and we have a responsibility to greet these strangers, some of whom have spent weeks or months at sea.”

In the 10 years that Deacon LaPoint has served as director of the Stella Maris Seafarers’ Center, the need for its services has increased significantly as more and more people seek assistance.

With the help of a grant from Catholic Extension donors, the center is able to provide a range of services to meet its visitors’ spiritual, emotional and physical needs.

Three paid staff and three volunteers serve 8,000-10,000 visitors a year. In some cases, visitors to the center need moral support; in others, they rely on the volunteers to advocate for them, whether it be to locate a missing paycheck or resolve other international immigration issues. In short, they provide much-needed assistance to workers from around the world with nowhere else to turn.

Mass is celebrated weekly by Father Rommel Tolentino, and Deacon LaPoint is available to assist with any pastoral or sacramental needs that may arise. “My ministry as a maritime deacon is about serving God’s people,” said LaPoint, “regardless of their particular religious beliefs or how they believe in God. In fact, my role parallels the diaconate, which is a ministry of service.”

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