Multistake Christmas Concert in Puerto Rico Draws Thousands
Contributed By Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events
On December 18 members of the five stakes of Puerto Rico—Caguas, Mayagüez, Ponce, San Juan, and Toa Baja—participated in a Christmas concert held in the Paseo de las Artes Abelardo Díaz-Alfaro in the city of Caguas. Approximately 85 members of the Church performed, and some 2,500 members of the community attended.
Paseo de las Artes includes an outdoor amphitheater that can accommodate up to 3,000 spectators. The amphitheater is a popular public venue because of the artistic shows that take place there year-round.
“In Puerto Rico every town has a central plaza where people can make arrangements with their municipalities to present whatever they want, from exercises to shows,” explained Nora Viana, who serves as public affairs director for the Caguas stake. “This particular plaza was prepared to present only artistic shows, so it was a great honor to receive the invitation to perform there, since the renowned artists and musicians of Puerto Rico have performed there.”
Municipality leaders in Caguas invited the Church to use the facility after Caguas stake president José M. Santos; Angel M. Negron, national public affairs director for the Church in Puerto Rico; and Esteban Clemente from Church Employment Resource Services made a presentation about the Church’s employment resources to one of the mayor’s aides in November. At the conclusion of the presentation, President Santos invited the aide and other municipal employees to attend the concert, which at that point was to be held in the stake center. It was then that the aide told President Santos that he knew the perfect place for the concert and offered him the use of the town plaza.
“The municipality of Caguas was excited to hear that we had a Christmas concert prepared and that we were willing to share it for free with the city employees and all who would be interested in attending,” said Sister Rebecca Mehr, who is serving as a public affairs missionary in the Caribbean Area. “Like most organizations, they are interested in leveraging opportunities to provide services or benefits to their people. The Church has so much to offer, and when we combine with local organizations we are able to serve and reach far more people than when we act alone.”
With the concert just over a month away, the Caguas stake formed several committees to oversee publicity, logistics, community invitations, welcoming, cleaning, and water distribution. The city provided security services, emergency paramedics, and space to host a VIP reception in the mayor’s city hall. In addition, it posted the concert on its website, gave the Church access to public bulletin boards for advertising, and authorized stake leaders to list the municipality as a sponsor of the event in the Church’s publicity.
President Santos said that the support from the city “has been wonderful.”
“Preparations for this concert have allowed a very good relationship between the mayor’s aides and priesthood leaders,” he said. “We are extremely honored and humbled to see how the Lord is pouring His blessings over these public servants who have been on our side to provide their ideas, their contacts, and more.”
Elder Hugo E. Martínez, an Area Seventy in the Caribbean Area, also expressed his gratitude for the graciousness and interest of Mayor William Miranda Jr. and his staff.
“Great bonds of understanding, respect, and appreciation have been established between the local Church leaders and the municipality of Caguas,” he said. “This can lead to further opportunities of growth and service together. We have capable members who can serve as volunteers to help the communities where we live in Puerto Rico.”
Stake leaders added that they hope that several results will come from the concert:
- Community members will know that members of the Church believe in Jesus Christ and that they are happy people.
- Church members will have more confidence in interacting with government and community leaders as they work together in future programs and projects.
- Church leaders will be able to develop strong cooperative relationships with government and community leaders.
- The way will be paved for missionary work in the area.
- Those who attended the concert will have felt the Spirit of the Lord.
All of the missionaries in the country attended the event, and they, along with members, passed out a Church-provided Christmas DVD and pass-along cards informing recipients about how to order copies of the Book of Mormon or other materials about the Church.
President Santos said that the concert provided a unique opportunity for the community to become aware of various aspects of the Church, the most important being that “members of the Church believe in Jesus Christ and believe that He is the foundation of our religion.”
“The most important thing [for other people] to know is that we believe in Jesus Christ, and we celebrate His birth, like many other Christian denominations,” he said. “We are happy people, and we like to share with people outside of our faith.”
He said he also hoped that those who attended the concert would see in the performers “a large group of Mormons who are like themselves.”
“Many people see the American missionaries and think that all members of the Church are like the missionaries,” he explained. “This concert will give people the opportunity to see Puerto Rican members of the Church who are like they are.”
That has happened already with one city official, Elder Martínez reported. The official told Brother Angel Sanabria, who served as the Caguas stake’s coordinator for this event that because of the concert, he now better knows and appreciates what members of the Church are like. “He is now a most enthuasiastic supporter,” Elder Martínez said.
The concert featured musical numbers from soloists, a quartet, an octet of missionaries, a 40-voice choir, a bell choir, and an orchestra. Additionally, Primary children from all of the stakes dressed in nativity costumes and participated in three of the songs.
The 90-minute program included 24 songs ranging from “Jingle Bells” to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” to traditional Puerto Rican carols such as “Villancico Yaucano.”
In addition to those who performed and who participated on the various committees, young men and women participated as ushers, and Relief Society sisters provided décor and refreshments for the VIP reception.
“This activity is paving the way for so many positive things for the Church, and I am extremely grateful for the efforts and sacrifices being made by so many of our brothers and sisters to help this activity be successful and to help create a good impression of the Church,” said President Santos.
This event is the first time all five stakes in the country coordinated to present a Christmas concert. In addition to the event in Caguas, the concert was presented the week before in a theater in the Ponce stake’s area, in the San Juan stake center, and in the Toa Baja stake center. It was also presented on Saturday, December 17, in the Mayagüez stake center.