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EDITORIAL — For visiting seafarers, place of rest, worship

There was a lot to love about the dedication and blessing of the Seafarers Chapel this week, not the least of which was that it embraced the rich and abundant faith, history and culture of our community.

The ecumenical chapel has been long in the planning stages but construction picked up steam since autumn. Steve Bresendine, vice president of Echo Maintenance, helped drive the project to completion.

The Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center building, 401 Houston Ave., where the chapel is located, is fashioned after the former Kansas City Southern train depot; the chapel is downtown, not far from the Port of Port Arthur, in what the Apostleship of the Sea believes was the space that served as a depot waiting room for non-whites.

“This was a place of division; now it’s a place of unity,” said Doreen Badeaux, immediate past president of the Seafarers’ Center, in a recent story. “To me that is a highlight, like God is fixing the ills from the past.”

The Rev. Sinclair Oubre led a packed chapel in offering evening prayers to mark the chapel’s formal opening. Supporters included people of various faiths, appropriate in that Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Jewish churches, temples and people contributed to the chapel’s creation. Oubre said care would be taken to mark inside the chapel the direction toward Mecca, so Muslims, too, can pray there.

The driving thrust of the chapel is to give seafarers who enter the port the opportunity to pray and reflect on their faith in a quiet place. There, they might find some comfort in the chapel’s relics and furnishings themselves. The church dedication and blessing came on the International Day of the Seafarer.

The altar, designed by Capt. Beau Dumensnil and fabricated by Gulf Copper, includes two portholes and a propeller. The top of the altar is a shrimp boat door.

The Underhill family donated a binnacle, which a helmsman uses for navigation. It was refurbished by Fine Touch Furniture Restoration, and a tabernacle placed atop it. Now, Badeaux said, Christ will provide the navigation for those in the chapel.

“The chapel is a quiet place to spend a moment with the Lord,” Oubre said, but it is also appropriate for a variety of religious services. He said the first Mass would be said there on World Maritime Day, the same week as the Feast of Our Lady Star of the Sea, the patroness of seafarers.

There are other, local historic touches: The interior doors of the former St. Mary Catholic Church enclose the binnacle and tabernacle; images of saints of special note here adorn the doors; a processional cross comes from St. Mary’s.

Now the chapel beckons others, welcomes them to Port Arthur, embraces all on their spiritual voyages.