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Time to Listen

A Letter from Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and José Manuel Capella-Pratts, serving as regional liaisons in the Caribbean

La Primavera/Spring 2022

Write to José Manuel Capella-Pratts
Write to Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri

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Dear friends,

The end of 2021 marked a new time in our lives. After 25 years in parish ministry (José Manuel) and after a time away from teaching and serving the church at large (Vilmarie), we find ourselves in ministry together, in a dual position, as regional liaisons for the Caribbean. 

For the past few months, we have been getting acquainted with the work of partners and fellow co-workers in the region, with the inner workings of Presbyterian World Mission, and with the processes that encompass beginning in a new position while still living in COVID-19 times. Our schedule has been framed by orientations and training, introductions and interviews, and (quite a few) videoconference meetings. My second day on the job (José Manuel) had us on a plane flying to Cuba for a 10-day trip. We were grateful to have been invited to attend the Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada’s first synod meeting since 2020. In those 10 days, we were able to visit congregations and related entities throughout the three presbyteries, seeing first-hand the mission and social ministry our sister church does in their communities. 

Living into this amazing ministry has been joy-filled yet intense. Pondering what our very first newsletter would look like, we weren’t quite sure what to share. We are still very much in that “getting started” stage. So, why not start at the beginning? Who are we, and why did we say “yes” to this ministry?

We are Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and José Manuel Capella-Pratts, beloved children of God and life-long Presbyterians. Married for 25 years, we were born and raised on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. From opposite sides of the island —José Manuel is from Aguadilla and Vilmarie is from San Juan— we met at camp… Presbyterian camp, to be exact, Campamento El Guacio, in the town of San Sebastián. Since getting married there in 1996, we have shared life and ministry in multiple ways. 

I (Vilmarie) am an educator and a ruling elder and have served in different councils and committees at regional and national levels of the denomination. With degrees in education, I have taught English as a second language and English literature to teenage and adult students from all over the world; my first formal teaching experience was as a Sunday School teacher. Along with the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, I served as co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), the first Hispanic Latina and first Puerto Rican person to be elected to this office. I (José Manuel) am a Minister of the Word and Sacraments. With degrees in psychology and theology, as well as graduate studies in pastoral care of the family, leadership and preaching, I have also served the PC(USA) at large in different roles at regional and national levels. For the past 25 years, my main service to the church has been in parish ministry. In our life together, we enjoy music, reading, technology, all things Star Wars and Star Trek, art and watercolor painting, often relaxing over a good cup of Puerto Rican coffee. 

Accepting this new call to serve as regional liaisons, as we shared at World Mission’s commissioning service, was one of those “If not us, who? If not now, when?” moments, to quote John Lewis. In the discernment process, we considered who we are, where we’ve been, our gifts, and this moment in time: A teacher and a pastor, a ruling elder and a teaching elder, both born in the Caribbean, serving in the Caribbean, bilingual and multi-cultural, and fluent in “Presbyterian” as well. Most importantly, we listened to the Holy Spirit in us, considered the history that had preceded us, and pondered on the possibilities that lay ahead. We realized that it was indeed “us,” and the moment was definitely “now.” We said “yes” to ministry as individuals and said “yes” to ministry together for such a time as this. 

It is exciting to serve in this role. As regional liaisons, our role is to listen, connect and accompany our church partners in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other island nations in the region, as well as serving with the Caribbean and North American Council for Mission (CANACOM). Our work will enable us to witness and assess opportunities for engagement in mutual mission with our Caribbean siblings as they bear witness to God’s grace, love, and justice in their communities. Among the common and mutual visions of ministry are promoting church vitality and education, food sovereignty, equity, and environmental, social and economic justice. It is an honor to support other mission personnel in the region and to resource our PC(USA) congregations, councils and partner networks. We can’t wait to delve into the richness of this ministry!

As we close this first newsletter, I (Vilmarie) would like to share some thoughts I began recording in a journal entry about our first night in Cuba. Before traveling to Matanzas, where the synod meeting would take place, we stayed the night at the Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada in Luyanó, La Habana. Our conversations on the bus on our way to Matanzas about our experiences the first night in Cuba touched on themes at the core of what it means to engage in mission in partnership, on how listening with intent can inform perspectives, open our minds, and bring people together in mutual understanding. The journal entry went something like this…
We closed the day with dinner and then headed to our room. Luyanó has dorm-like facilities for visitors. As we were getting ready to go to bed, I could hear the voice of a woman at a neighboring house. Children were laughing and responding to what the woman was saying. I couldn’t quite understand what was being said or what was happening. I just wanted to go to bed after a long day, tired and, frankly, a little annoyed by what I considered “noise.” But then, for a moment, I paused. I could then hear clearly, “Y sopló y sopló…” “And he huffed, and he puffed…” I recognized the words. The woman —who might have been the children’s mother— was reading aloud Los tres cerditos, The Three Little Pigs. When I paused for a moment and truly listened, I realized this wasn’t “noise” at all. It was a mother reading a bedtime story to her kids.

In the hustle and bustle of busy lives, are we being intentional and taking time to pause, listen and notice what is happening around us and to God’s work in our midst? It is our prayer that, as we engage in this new call, this new time in our lives, this holy work, we continue to listen, truly listen, to the Holy Spirit in our midst and to our partners and fellow co-workers as we walk together and witness to God’s love, grace, and justice. Así nos ayude Dios.

Please enjoy this video link:

IPR Cuba, February 2022

Visita al Sínodo, Presbiterios y Congregaciones de la Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba, del 2 al 12 de febrero de 2022.Anc. Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri …






Vilmarie and José Manuel

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