Update on Parroquia San José, Luquillo, Puerto Rico
The weekend of January 19 and 20, a small group of parishioners traveled to Puerto Rico to visit Parroquia San José (St. Joseph Parish) in Luquillo. If you recall, the parish suffered damages from Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Through our parish Lenten almsgiving, Ash Wednesday collection, 10% of the Anchor Ball paddle raise from 2018, and other generous donations, we were able to send the parish around $23,000 to assist with rebuilding efforts. After ongoing conversations with Fr. Francis Okih Peter, pastor of Parroquia San José, it was decided to send a group from Saint Clement to Puerto Rico, focusing a visit around relationship building and better understanding the needs of the parish and community. Thus, our travels took us to Luquillo, Puerto Rico, a small beach community on the northeast coast of the island, approximately 30 miles east of San Juan. In addition to Fr. Paul and Fr. Rex were staff members Maggie Hanley and Michael Bayer, along with parishioners Katie Abel, who chairs the Young Adult Community, and Warren McGee, who initially connected us with the parish through a family connection. Our goals were simply to be present, open to learning about the community, and assess how we might be of service moving forward.
What we found in Luquillo was an incredibly warm, vibrant, hospitable, faith-filled community. The Friday evening we arrived, we spent time in the church learning about the beautifully crafted altarpiece, which told a story of the community and faith important to the Puerto Ricans. Afterwards, their parishioners treated us to a welcome dinner and celebration complete with lively music and testimonials from their members about the hurricane, as well as their gratitude for our parish’s assistance, despite not knowing them personally. What a joy it was to share this experience with them! We walked away grateful for all those from Saint Clement who generously gave their resources, but also intimately touched by their warm welcome and reminded how vitally important the body of Christ is.
The days that followed allowed us to spend a considerable amount of time learning about how Puerto Ricans and the parish were affected by the hurricane. Fr. Francis himself had only been at Parroquia San José one week prior to Hurricane Irma in early September, which was followed by Hurricane Maria later in the month. Parishioners shared how large numbers of people fled to the U.S. mainland after the hurricane and have not returned, which has greatly affected parish numbers, the local school system, and much, much more. Much of the infrastructure on the island was “band-aid” fixed, bringing about concerns on how the island would rebound after a future storm. Electricity was spotty at best, not returning for some families until three, six, sometimes nine months later. Lines to receive gas for generators took hours upon end. Parroquia San José itself suffered damages to the church and parish hall windows and roof. From the $23,000 Saint Clement sent, the parish was able to replace the windows in the church, which have been guaranteed to withstand future hurricanes and add greater security for the church. A neat coincidence was that the windows arrived the same morning we did, after months of delays and uncertainty that they’d get to the parish. We were fortunate to see the windows installed in the church before leaving Monday.
We attended all of the Sunday liturgies where we were introduced to the community and Fr. Francis was able to share the news that the new church windows had finally arrived, to much celebration. It was a joy to spend the day with parishioners of Parroquia San José and hear from members about how special the parish was to them, along with their gratitude.
The parish has a great deal of physical needs, as the priests’ residence and parish hall sustained significant damage. Priority has been given to restoring the church, with the residence and parish hall likely needing to be rebuilt in the near future. Fr. Francis did share how grateful the entire community is that we sent funding, and that it served as a motivation to his parishioners to contribute to rebuilding efforts personally and through family and friends, raising $25,000 themselves. It was - and is – a great source of pride for the community!
What stands out most about the community of Parroquia San José is the love, hospitality, humility, and faith-filled strength of the people. It is a special place. We were humbled by our visit and reminded what a blessing our faith is, fully alive, meaningful and vitally important in our world today.
If you would like to contribute financially to Parroquia San José’s rebuilding efforts, please note your gift as “San José” (with checks made out to Saint Clement). Saint Clement has pledged support to Parroquia San José for three years, and we do hope to send groups in the future to assist the parish and its members. If interested in being kept in the loop, please email Maggie Hanley. To view the photos take on the trip, click here. If you would like to follow Parroquia San José on Facebook, search for Parroquia San José de Luquillo.
Thank you for your generosity to Parroquia San José! What a tangible difference it has made.