Each year, families and even entire communities in south Alabama depend on the seafood harvested out of the warm local waters. And that means each season needs a good start. Which is why, more than 60 years ago, church leaders in Bayou La Batre revived an ancient maritime tradition where local fishermen receive a blessing meant to ensure a safe and bountiful season. Known as the Blessing of the Fleet, the tradition’s home is St. Margaret’s Catholic Church, where each spring hundreds of boats alight on the bayou to receive the blessing of Most Rev. Thomas J. Rodi, Archbishop of Mobile.
Festooned in colorful flags for the occasion, these vessels work the front line, helping Alabama Gulf Seafood maintain its place among the world’s best. Harvesting fish, shrimp, crab and oysters out of the waterways along Alabama’s Gulf coast is hard work, and the seasonal harvest is dependent on weather and tidal factors out of a fisherman’s control. That’s why so many bow their heads each year to absorb the archbishop’s words.
The blessing says: “May God in Heaven fulfill abundantly the prayers which are pronounced over you and your boats and equipment on the occasion of the Blessing of the Fleet. God bless you going out and coming in; the Lord be with you at home and on the water. May He accompany you when you start on your many journeys. May He fill your nets abundantly as a reward for your labor, and may He bring you all safely in, when you turn your boats homeward to shore. Amen.”
In 2012, the Blessing of the Fleet will be held May 5-6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Festivities include childrens’ activities, live music, arts and crafts, a gumbo cookoff and parades on both the land and the water. There’s even a raffle each year for a handmade quilt. Nautically themed and embroidered by the Ladies of St. Margaret’s Parish, the quilt is treasured by those who win it each year.
“We do our best to keep the tradition going,” said Rev. Bieu V. Nguyen, pastor of St. Margaret’s. “The town and all the people are looking forward to it.”
The celebration carries on throughout the year, as boat after boat go out and return safely, carrying the bounties cultivated along the Alabama Gulf Coast. “You know, Bayou La Batre is the seafood capital of Alabama, and people are very proud of their catches here on the Gulf Coast.” Rev. Nguyen said. “I’m a huge fan of the seafood.” And so many of those who make their living catching that seafood believe it takes more than just skill. It takes faith.
“It gives you wisdom and strength to go about your daily life, and to help you overcome difficulties in times of need,” Rev. Nguyen said. “That’s why faith is very important to fishermen here.”
Story by MICHAEL DUMAS for ASMC
Photos courtesy of The Catholic Week