A beautiful and timeless tradition will make its return to the Gulf Coast, and coordinators are looking to rebuild this wonderful event to its former glory.
After an absence of two years, Pass Christian looks forward to hosting the 44th Annual Blessing of the Fleet at the Pass Christian Harbor on Saturday, May 21. This is a magnificent event that has its roots deeply planted in the waters, citizens, and cities of the Gulf Coast.
With its origins in ancient European times, the first Blessing of the Fleet in the Biloxi Bay was given in 1929. Immigrant Catholics brought the tradition of the blessing of their fishing fleet, asking God’s favor for a safe and plentiful season, from their home countries to the Gulf Coast. A local priest from Ireland, Patrick Carey, proceeded over the first Blessing in 1929. This tradition continues today with an annual procession of colorful flags, banners, and beauty along the Mississippi Sound. Commercial, charter, and recreational boats are invited to participate in the festivities.
“The history of the Blessing of the Fleet goes back many, many years ago and was always a major event for the Gulf Coast, especially during the 1970s and 1980s,” councilman and coordinator of the event, Kirk Kirkland, said. “My family has been in the fishing industry, and this was always a major event for us. With its beginnings in the early foundation of the Catholic Church, all those in the fishing industry or those out on the water are honored to receive such a blessing for their boats, crew, communities, and their good fortune and bountiful season on their journeys. But it is also a blessing to keep them and our Gulf Coast communities safe in times of the storms and bad weather that might come our way.”
Kirkland recalled days of his youth riding with his dad as trucks hauled shrimp back and forth from the Gulf Coast to regions far and near such as Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and so many other places. The fishing industry was booming and Kirkland is proud that he got to experience those days with his father, even though he admitted to being bribed by a Krispy Kreme donut to ride with his dad as the trucks hauled loads and loads of seafood around the country.
“I can remember some years that the catch was so plentiful that we gave bags of shrimp out to everyone that came out to enjoy the event,” Kirkland said.
Despite the decrease in attendance and interest in this time honored tradition, Kirkland and the Gulf Coast are looking to revive this blessed event and inform generations to come how much this event has always meant to the Gulf Coast in hopes of bringing back the event to its days of former glory. But more than anything, Kirkland wants everyone to experience the unique event and the beautiful city of Pass Christian.
“As any event we have in the Catholic church, we see it as a celebration,” Kirkland said. “And this is a celebration of life that we would encourage everyone to come out and support their local fishermen, boats, cities, and citizens of the Gulf Coast.”
Kirkland encourages all boats whether they are in the fishing industry or not to come to be blessed and is extending the invitation to recreational boats as well. The event is held to bless not only the boats and fishermen but also the communities and the Gulf Coast residents as well.
“We bless the waters and the boats that they may go and return safely,” Kirkland said. “It’s a time of blessing for a plentiful catch for the boats. We also want to bless our people and bless our communities in times of storms and turbulent waters. It is a unique event where blessings are extended and celebrations are held for a successful and safe year.”
Kirkland invites all to come to this grand event that is to be held May 21, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and encourages guest to enjoy some good food and listen to some great music. For this special day, the local shops, restaurants, bars, and the city of Pass Christian will be open later so that after the band stops playing, guests can explore the city and enjoy all that this beautiful community has to offer.
“I’ve traveled a lot and could live anywhere I wanted but there is a reason I live here,” Kirkland said. “It’s a city like any other with its beauty and hospitality. When I go to other places, I kind of feel claustrophobic because I’m accustomed to the openness of the Gulf. The Gulf Coast is a great place to live and visit.”
The events will kick off with a Children’s Fishing Rodeo sponsored by the Pass Christian Volunteer Fire Department. Then, blessings will be conducted from the Pass Christian Yacht Club Pier. Make it a day on the water as you launch off from the harbor or enjoy the festivities of good music, food, and fun between the Old and New Harbor. Admission is free, and there will be a great variety of food for purchase as you enjoy the music of the Starz Band. There will be prizes given to the “Best Decorated Commercial Boat” and the “Best Decorated Recreational Boat.”