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A faithful walk through Old San Juan

Take steps into five centuries of Christianity in Puerto Rico

Graceful cruise ships dock in San Juan, Puerto Rico, gateway to the southern Caribbean and the second oldest city in the Americas. More than an exotic port of call, however, San Juan is a place of pilgrimage for Lutherans from around the world this month.

They are gathering Oct. 30-Nov. 1 for the ELCA Global Mission Event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Lutheran church in Puerto Rico. Today the island's church is part of the Caribbean Synod.

On a hill overlooking the pier, Old San Juan is a seven-block square that dates back to 1521. Cafes, boutiques, park-like plazas and Spanish colonial architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries line the steep, cobblestone streets.

The pristine, white San Juan Cathedral at 153 Calle Cristo, a Roman Catholic shrine, was rebuilt in the 19th century. Step inside. A statue of a benevolent Christ, floating on a sky-blue globe, invites prayerful reflection from reverent visitors, as do the cathedral's dramatic vaulted ceilings and elaborate, gilded altars.

A few blocks away, at 101 Calle San Sebastián, is the Gothic San José church, one of the Western Hemisphere's oldest Christian houses of worship. Built by Dominican friars in 1532, it is adjacent to a convent that today houses the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.

For music-loving Lutherans, the Pablo Casals Museum is a cultural-pilgrimage must.

Pore over yellowed music manuscripts, listen to a live recording of the master mellifluously weaving his bow through an intricate Bach suite — and proudly claim the composer's Lutheran heritage as your own.

The renowned Spanish cellist lived on this sunny island for the last 16 years of his life. The humble museum, at 101 Calle San Sebastián, Plaza de San José, holds archival photographs, concert programs and many of the beloved musician's cellos, in addition to vintage records and videotaped performances from the International Casals Festival, held each June.

For more information, contact the Puerto Rico Tourism Company at (800) 223-6530.


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