An Inspirational Mission Trip to Puerto Rico
By Myrna Ruiz, OCMC Mission Team Member to Puerto Rico 2005
Our OCMC Mission Team arrived on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and was very well received. The weather is delightful and the vegetation is lush. The people are friendly and appear to be very religious. Puerto Ricans seem to be a vibrant and warm people who love their music and spicy foods. In Old San Juan, there is a surprising mixture of cultures – Spanish, English, Greek, Arabic and Mexican restaurants abound.
St. Spyridon parish in San Juan has been in existence in Puerto Rico for ten years and is under the jurisdiction of His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras Metropolitan of Panama and the Caribbean. The mission efforts there are led by Protopresbyter Peter Di Leo and Archimandrite Doctor Andrew Vujisc. Although they are poor financially, St. Spyridon is a parish whose fire burns bright. Many lives have been changed because of Fr. Peter’s and Fr. Andrew’s commitment to serve others.
Our four-person Team helped a small Orthodox parish to spread the Gospel and minister to the poor. We were told by a local Greek parishioner that it was the first time that she had connected with an Orthodox group that visited Puerto Rico. She was very glad we had come. This was the sentiment expressed everywhere we went.
Our Team met a lot of people when we participated in church services throughout the metropolitan area. We celebrated a general Memorial Service, Great Vespers, the Hours and Divine Liturgy together. As outreach events we held an Akathist service at a Greek Restaurant and on the grounds of the University of Puerto Rico. We made a great impact on the campus and had several conversations with people who stopped to ask questions. My fellow Team Member, Louise Mamakos, shared the faith in such a gentle and calm way with these inquirers.
One of the most rewarding aspects of our Mission Trip was when we worked at the Iniciativa Comunitaria (Community Initiative) Soup Kitchen for several days. We were pleased to minister to the poor and truly enjoyed spending time with the homeless. The homeless people who ate at the Iniciativa Comunitaria were very grateful for the service that our Team provided. Another fellow Team Member, Flora Boardman, gave out crosses from Jerusalem that meant a lot to them. Some clasped them close to their hearts; others wanted to put it on immediately and each one of them treasured this special gift.
Several of the people eating at the Soup Kitchen approached our Team Leader, Fr. Mark Muñoz from Holy Taxiarhai-St. Haralambos Church in Niles, IL, and asked him about the Orthodox Faith. They were happy to receive his blessing as well as some Orthodox prayer books that had been translated into Spanish. We could see the hope in their eyes! It was such a humbling experience to see someone who doesn’t have anything to his name stand up to pray and give thanks to the Lord.
I was also humbled and inspired by the piety and commitment to help others that I witnessed in Fr. Peter and Fr. Andrew. Despite Fr. Peter’s health problems he continues to serve people and spread the Orthodox Faith in Puerto Rico.
One of the women who volunteers in the soup kitchen gives thanks for Fr. Peter every time you mention his name. A former drug abuser and criminal, she now works at the Soup Kitchen thanks to Fr. Peter’s guidance and assistance. There are many stories like this that illustrate Fr. Peter’s impact on the community.
St. Spyridon parish uses a rented chapel for services and they are restricted in the types of services that they can offer. For this reason, and because the space is very small, they have a great need to have their own church building in Puerto Rico. I am certain that there would be many more converts if a church was built there.
It was an honor to be part of this team. It was a delight to serve the less fortunate, to help create awareness of the Orthodox Faith and to encourage this dynamic and growing parish. I am grateful for the chance to have met and worked with such inspirational servants of our Lord.
Myrna Ruiz works at the Orthodox Christian Mission Center as the OCMC Mission Teams Secretary.
You can make a difference! Put your faith into action and fulfill the mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Commission. Participate in OCMC Mission Teams and help spread the Gospel!