Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
The weekend of Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2, 2019, St. Michael’s Parish, Biloxi, Mississippi, part of the Diocese of Biloxi, will lead the 90th annual Biloxi Blessing of the Fleet. The event kicks off Saturday at 4 p.m. with A Fais Do-Do (Cajun dance party), with food and entertainment, and the crowning of the Shrimp King and Queen.
The following Sunday at 2 p.m., the pastor of St. Michael’s, Fr. Greg Barras, will climb on board a “blessing boat” which will be anchored off shore. As many as a hundred boats, both fishing and pleasure craft, will process by, many colorfully decorated for the day, and receive a blessing from Fr. Barras. The blessing invokes God’s blessing on the boats, and is a prayer for a prosperous and safe shrimp-fishing season. The water is typically warm enough in spring, and the shrimp have grown large enough by June, to commence the season. Joining Father on the blessing boat will be the Shrimp King and Queen.
The annual event began in 1929, when Catholic immigrants from Europe request a local Irish priest do the blessing. Additional events surrounding it were added, and it quickly became a popular event in the community.
Fr. Barras has been involved in the Biloxi Blessing of the Fleet for 14 years, the time he has served as pastor at St. Michael’s. He recently shared about the event.
Why is the Biloxi Blessing of the Fleet important to the community?
It is important because this parish has been around for over 100 years, situated on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The bulk of its members have been French and Croatian. They lived off the bounty of the Gulf before St. Michael existed. Now both cultures are heavily Roman Catholic. God is a significantly part of this mystery we call creation. These people did not create the waters or the bounty from which they feed their families, feed the world, enjoy recreation, etc. However, these waters have been polluted over the years by us and by the oil industry.
We have profited and suffered. Storms have played havoc with the catch. Heavy rains from all over the country draining through the Mississippi river system have affected the catch. Despite this, Mother Nature keeps coming back and producing and affording a lifestyle and recreation all in God’s hands. As a priest, I witness God’s hand at work in the present and through the many stories of the older folks here in the parish.
So you are giving thanks to God for His blessing.
We have nothing but gratitude for what we enjoy, the bounty of the Gulf of Mexico. And so, we intentionally remember and give thanks.
St. Michael’s is a church themed to the sea.
The church was built in the early 60s and is a phenomenon of great architecture on the coast. Round, reaching some 80 feet at its apex, it has 45 columns of stained-glass depicting the Church of the fishermen/fisherwomen.
The dome is literally not an oyster shell, it is the congregation looking up from under the water through the waves to heaven above. The nets in the stained-glass are all pulling us up as the catch of faithful believers on our journey to, with, and through God.
The artists were very talented and full of imagination that is brilliant, transformative and transcendent. One must come inside to capture the story of the stain-glass. You cannot see the beauty or experience the divine/human reality unless you see it from inside. It is so much the reality of faith, from the inside out.
How have you enjoyed your time at St. Michael’s?
It is a privilege and wonderful experience to serve as pastor here at St. Michael.