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Director buoyed sailors’ faith for decade

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SAN DIEGO – It was a simple ceremony because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the Diocese of San Diego couldn’t let the opportunity pass to recognize Joe Bartel for the key role he has played in ministering to a community on the margins.

Bishop Robert McElroy and Father James Boyd, chaplain of the Port of San Diego, on Feb. 16 presented Bartel, 81, with a framed certificate in honor of his decade of service as director of the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center.

Located at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, the center represents the local Church’s participation in the Apostleship of the Sea, an international ministry of pastoral care to those who make their livelihoods on the world’s oceans.

The bishop praised Bartel for his work, describing it as “a sign of hospitality” to seafarers, “reaching out (to them) … with the loving arms of Christ.”

The Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center temporarily suspended all of its activities late last March, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, its doors had been open to the crew members of the many commercial vessels that dock at the port, including the Dole ships that arrive weekly with cargoes of tropical fruit.

The center also arranged for Masses to be celebrated for Catholic crew members aboard their vessels. Because more than 50 percent of international seafarers are from the Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic, Bartel said, Catholics are well represented among their ranks.

The center’s volunteer staff also delivered donated magazines to the ships, and they escorted crew members through the terminal and provided transportation to and from local shopping centers.

Bartel said that he “started off as just a simple volunteer,” before being asked about a year and a half later to serve as the center’s director.

“Joe accepted my invitation to temporarily direct the center about 10 years ago when the previous director retired,” recalled Rod Valdivia, then diocesan chancellor and now vice-moderator of the diocesan curia. “Our intention was to quickly identify a new director, but Joe did such a great job and was willing to stay that (it) kept us from trying too hard to find one.”

It was a tough job.

For a substantial portion of his time at the center, Bartel estimates that he put in 30 to 40 hours a week. For the nine months before his retirement on Jan. 6, however, he essentially served as a caretaker for the temporarily shuttered center and its two diocesan-owned vans.

Bartel did an “outstanding, wonderful job taking care of the waterfront,” said Father Boyd, who noted that, as a U.S. Navy veteran, Bartel had personal experience of seafaring and was “sympathetic with the sailors.”

Bartel, who served in the Navy from 1961 to 1989, said the average seafarer is away from home for between six to nine months of the year. As such, he said, seafarers are “totally reliant” on ministries like the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center and, “without the center, there is no support.”

The center has a need for volunteers and financial donations. To learn more about how you can assist this ministry, contact Manny Aguilar at (858) 490-8294, or maguilar@sdcatholic.org.

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