This is Church: My Experience on a Virtual Pilgrimage to Puerto Rico
This may sound like a quiet, contemplative exercise. Perhaps you imagine 59 of us listening while 1 lectures. But this was not the case.
Sure, there was listening and excellent, thought-provoking, justice-inspiring speakers. But there was also a lively conversation in the chat, with many responding there to the important questions and comments arising in the group. The community that we established for this short time together was not passive but active! This group was ready to engage, advocate, learn, pray, listen, guide, and more.
Indeed, I found myself thinking, “This is Church. Right in this Zoom room. And I am so glad that I’m here.”
There were deep discussions of climate justice, colonialism, racism, and the church’s role in dismantling these many injustices. We talked about how those in the pew and pulpit must be courageous in addressing these issues.
We heard heartbreaking and inspiring testimonies from our Puerto Rican neighbors about their experiences with hurricane Maria. Many lived through harrowing experiences that still bring much sadness and grief 4 years later. Lives were lost, buildings were destroyed, and the work of repairing and rebuilding has been long and arduous. However, even with the heartbreaking stories, there were also so many stories of hope. Many people came together to help with physical needs, damage repair, and emotional support.
We affirmed the hope that comes from community organizing. We learned that the primary goal of AMANESER 2025 is to foster community efforts in seeking solutions for problems, especially related to climate change. We were uplifted by the stories of communities that had been transformed through collaboration with AMANESER 2025. As they said to us, “juntos podemos!” (“Together, we can do it!”)
We virtually visited the community of Villa Cañona, where we met the people, heard their stories, and echoed their cries for justice. This community deals with police brutality, violence against young leaders, intermittent access to electricity, government inaction, and extreme economic poverty. We were moved by their testimonies.
We also worshiped together and discussed some of the cultural and physical realities of Puerto Rico – including viewing a Bomba dance and hearing the sweet sound of the coquis (tiny frogs that sound somewhat similar to cicadas).
Perhaps one of the most powerful moments for me was hearing from a sojourner with us from Puerto Rico. She reflected that she had been taught that Puerto Rico was a tiny, insignificant dot on a map. That stayed with her throughout her life and shaped the way she saw herself and her island until she became engaged with the work of AMANESER 2025. Working with AMANESER 2025, she reframed her view of Puerto Rico as a powerful, beautiful, and meaningful place.
The work of AMANESER 2025 is empowering! Their work is not charity. It is justice. As members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, I am grateful that we share in this work through partnership and solidarity. I was grateful for the opportunity to encounter Puerto Rican siblings without leaving my home.
Viva AMANESER 2025! May God continue to bless this holy, important work.
More resources will be available from this virtual experience soon. If your congregation, Region, or Conference would be interested in organizing a virtual pilgrimage, please contact Lorna Hernandez at email@example.com.