Puerto Rico has 26 ELCA churches, but only one faces the town square. Getsemaní is the church and Dorado the town. "That's why we Lutherans call Getsemaní our 'cathedral,' " says Margarita Martinez, a third-generation Lutheran and pastor from Puerto Rico who serves as the ELCA associate director for global events.
A Roman Catholic church is located on each of the plazas in the island's 78 cities, Martinez explains, along with a city hall and a statue or fountain in the center. But on Dorado's plaza there is Getsemaní. Its location, not size, gives it its special status. "Actually it's quite small, too small even for synod events," adds Martinez who served as pastor of one of the other three Lutheran churches in this city about an hour's drive from San Juan.
The oldest Lutheran church is San Pablo, which stands near the entrance of Old San Juan, facing the ocean. Also small, it was built in 1916 in a neo-Gothic style. The congregation dates to 1898 when Sigfrid Gustav Swensson, a U.S. theology student, began Spanish-speaking worship services.
Martinez recommends that Lutheran travelers add both churches to their not-to-be-missed lists. She also suggests spending time in Old San Juan on La Calle del Cristo: "It's a special street. The [paving] bricks were brought over from Germany and at the end of the street is a small chapel with the sea behind it," she says.
Arts and crafts shops and cafés abound. Her traditional food recommendations include escabeche de quineo, a mix of green bananas, onions, olives and peppers; pasteles, "Puerto Rican tamales"; and tembleque, a coconut custard. "My favorite," she says, "is agua de coco, coconut water. It's the best thing for a hot day."
She has the answer, too, to the travelers' question about that sound you hear wherever you go: "It's the singing of our mini-frogs. You don't see them. They hide between the plants. We call them coqui because that's the sound they make."
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