Walt's Look Around: Annual Blessing of the Fleets - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Walt's Look Around: Annual Blessing of the Fleets

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GULFPORT, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The annual Blessing of the fleet is more symbolic now than it used to be, I guess. Many of the shrimp boats were already putting out into the gulf the morning of the blessing, to get in a days work and not miss a day's catch. Knowing that, in spirit, their boat would be covered by the afternoon's events, too.

But back in 1929 all of the shrimping vessels were lashed together and the priest from St. Michael Catholic Church walked across the decks of the boats sprinkling them with holy water as he went.

Well nowadays, the priest is stationary and the boats pass by him, this year The Rev. Gregory Barras, Pastor of St. Michael's Catholic Church officiated from the bow of the Pan American Clipper. That boat is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and is most know as the ferry boat to Ship Island.

The ceremony starts with an evergreen wreath being dropped into the water of the harbor at Biloxi from one of the Harrison County helicopters, in memorial to all of the fishermen who have been lost in the past year. That is also the signal for the parade of boats that have been lining up in the ship canal to start filing past the blessing boat.

The blessing is not limited to shrimp boats anymore, but anyone wanting to can join in the parade. And the festivities it is not just limited to just the passing of the boats on Sunday afternoon anymore, either. It is a four-day event leading up to the blessing of the vessels that includes pageants, live bands, and a mass at St. Michael.

But the parade of the boats is fun. If I had a boat and lived on the coast I'd want to be in on it. They give a prize for the best decorated, but that seems to be secondary to just being there, loaded down as loaded as you can get, or with just the immediate family.

It's the tradition of the thing that is appealing: the tradition of passing before the priest who is invoking the blessings of the Heavenly Father on your behalf, the tradition of the camaraderie of those who go to sea, no matter how far or not you go, out-to-sea. And just the tradition of being a part of the sea, the unchanging sea, the sea that is the same as it always has been with fish and fishermen and horizon and shore and the heavens above and the deep below. And you, taking your place on it, completing the picture.

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