Under clear, windy skies on Sunday afternoon, several altar servers carried a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, carefully balanced upright on a white wooden litter, to the end of the Maine state pier.
They placed the 4-foot-tall likeness of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Protector of All Sailors, on a pillar overlooking Portland Harbor, one of New York’s busiest commercial and recreational ports. -England.
Afterwards, priests from Portland’s Roman Catholic parishes presided over the first Fleet Blessing to be held in Maine’s largest city in more than a decade.
“Bless these boats, their equipment and all who use them,” said Reverend Seamus Griesbach, pastor of the Portland Peninsula and Island parishes. “Protect them from the perils of the abyss and fill their nets.”
About 100 people attended the hour-long ceremony kicking off the summer boating season — an event that hasn’t happened in Portland since 2007 or 2008, organizers said. The last blessing before that was in the late 1990s.
About 50 boats of all sizes and types participated Sunday afternoon, including a fireboat, a few tugboats and a wide variety of fishing and pleasure boats. Dating back centuries to Mediterranean fishing villages, similar blessings take place every year in Boothbay Harbor, Gloucester, Massachusetts, and other maritime communities around the world, Griesbach said.
The Portland event blossomed this year after members of Saint Christopher Parish on Peaks Island began planning to hold a Fleet Blessing as part of the parish’s 100th anniversary activities, said organizer Chris Hoppin.
Leaders of Portland parishes, including the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the home parish of Bishop Robert Deeley and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, decided to hold the ceremony on the mainland and include the community at large.
Danielle Ogden from Pownal was present with her daughters, Rosemary, 4, and Maeve, 14 months.
“My husband and I always try to testify to our faith,” said Ogden, whose husband was working Sunday afternoon. “Being Catholic is part of our daily family culture. It’s not just something we do on Sunday mornings. It’s important to be here because we live in a maritime community and Rosemary loves boats.
Among the dignitaries was Coast Guard Captain Amy Florentino, commander of the Northern New England Sector, who is stationed in South Portland. Florentino, who is Catholic, participated for professional and personal reasons with his 9-year-old daughter, Claire.
“It’s fun to watch and participate in maritime events like this, and it’s nice to see the support from the community,” she said. “Search and rescue is one of our biggest missions and commercial fishing is still one of the most dangerous industries. It’s great to start the season with a reminder of safety and protection at sea.”
Peaks Island’s Joe Whalen was one of many boat captains from Peaks who joined the parade of boats past the pier. He was at the helm of his 35-foot sport fishing boat Albin, which carried several passengers and was decorated with flags for the occasion.
“I think it’s great,” Phalen said as her boat circled the harbor. “Everyone on Peaks wanted to do it.”
After Father Griesbach pronounced a general blessing, including several prayers, he and other priests sprinkled holy water on boats that stopped at the pier. Contained in a copper kettle, the water was collected from the harbor by altar servers and blessed by Griesbach just before the ceremony.
Priests used evergreen twigs to sprinkle holy water. Griesbach used a small straw broom.
“I had a good range with that,” Griesbach said after the ceremony. “It was super fun. Living our faith is supposed to make our lives more enjoyable.
It was also an opportunity to build community and show support for those who make their living on the water.
“Life at sea is not easy,” Griesbach said. “They come out all year round in all weathers. It’s hard. It’s dangerous. It is important that they know they are not alone. Faith is a yes to love. Events like this help us forge bonds of love and affection across the community.
Griesbach said he hopes the blessing of the fleet will become an annual tradition in Portland, possibly including clergy from other denominations and denominations.
“This year has been kind of a trial balloon,” he said. “As we said (in promoting this event), all boats are welcome, and they weren’t all Catholic boats.”
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