Casting on to support those struggling at sea

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Fr Bernie Thomas ofm with students from St Charles Primary School, Ryde, before the pandemic. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Care packages go to comforting “desperate” sailors

Fr Bernie Thomas is knitting up a storm to help those in troubled waters. The parish priest from Mary Immaculate at Waverley is making beanies to be included in care packages for the thousands of seafarers trapped on ships coming into Sydney waters.

The appeal, established by seafarer’s chaplain Sr Mary Leahy, is calling for urgent donations of personal hygiene products including shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, deodorant and razors as well as knitted beanies and chocolates for the exhausted sailors currently stranded on ships off Port Botany due to the coronavirus.

Fr Bernie thinks it’s a ‘purl-er’ of an idea and has cast on to get behind Sr Mary and the appeal. “It’s such a great cause and I’m very happy to help where I can,” he said. “I have been knitting for over 30 years and made many, many beanies and am always happy to do what I can when there is a need.“

The Franciscan friar said he started knitting when he was 19. He needed a new jumper and his mum said ‘Why don’t you just knit your own’ so he did.

Over three decades he has made thousands of beanies, scarves, mittens and jumpers which he gives to charities who support those on the streets and in need of warm clothing including St Vincent de Paul, the Cana Community and the Matthew Talbot Hostel.

Sr Mary Leahy rsj preparing some of the care packages from donations to seafarers in trouble in Sydney ports. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

He has also knitted thousands of beanies for newborn babies for care packages given to new mums. Fr Bernie said he knits because he likes being active while helping others at the same time. He has cast on students from St Charles primary school to get involved and established a knitting club which he says combines faith, friendship and just as importantly fun.

“It’s terrific seeing the kids getting involved, knitting is such a relaxing thing to do which can benefit so many,” he said. “I am always on hand to cast on, pick-up any dropped stitches or teach anyone who wants to learn. I must admit I am a bit of a wool-snob so encourage the kids to use good quality wool but apart from that they are on their own.”

Fr Bernie is one of many people from the Sydney Archdiocese who have answered the call and donating to the seafarers appeal.

The Angel of Sydney’s waterfront

Known as the “angel of Sydney’s waterfront”, the Josephite Sr Mary has spent the past 20 years helping those who earn a living on the seas and said she has never seen conditions so desperate. Trapped on what has been described as “floating prisons” many of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers already at sea for up to nine months have no real sign of when they will be able to return home.

“It is estimated that around 100,000 seafarers finish their contracts and fly home every month in normal times but that is not currently happening and they are stuck on the ships denied access to dock anywhere in the world,” she said.

Sr Mary Leahy with Port Botany staff Charlie Langham, Dane Galvin and Bernie Farrelly preparing to deliver
Care Packages to recently docked seafarers. PHOTO: ALPHONSUS FOK

“They are always in danger, isolated and generally forgotten by society yet carry 98 per cent of world trade. Covid-19 is of course exacerbating this reality with all the extra danger involved. It is beyond lamentable seafarers are treated so shabbily.

“Just knowing Sydney is a friendly port makes their lives that little bit more bearable.
“The Care Packages might be a small thing but it’s something that lets them know they are cared for and thought of.”

Donations can be left at selected parishes around Sydney or sent directly to Sr Mary Leahy at Gate B105, Penrhyn Road, Port Botany NSW 2036.

How you can help

Items are needed at these parish donation drop off points:

St Andrew Malabar (8.30am-2.30pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays)
St Charles Borromeo Ryde / Gladesville (9-4 Monday to Friday)
Our Lady Star of the Sea Miranda (8-2pm Monday to Friday)
All Saints Liverpool (9-4pm Monday to Sunday)
Mary Immaculate Waverly (10am-2pm Monday to Friday)

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