I don't remember when I developed a passion and fascination for the mysteries that lie inside the hearts of people who have been born in different landscapes than my own.  I think this love for cultures different than my own was developed somewhere between 49th street and 8th Avenue in New York City.

As a Puerto Rican living in the United States — starting with those college years in New York — who is fascinated by the how cultural values are shaped and developed, I never before realized that within my own ethic identity lies a powerful multicultural diversity.

At the "National Presbyterian Hispanic/Latino Event" here July 23-25, my eyes were opened to the multicultural diversity within the Hispanic churches of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The theme for this first-of-its-kind event was "A Family with a Purposeful Call" and this sense of family was the driving force behind every activity, forum, workshop and fellowship planed for the approximately 400 Presbyterians in attendance from the United States and Puerto Rico.

The stated purpose of the event was to unite all the Presbyterian organizations represented in the Hispanic/Latino PC(USA) churches throughout the denomination.  It united the Presbyterian Women, the Presbyterian Men, the National Hispanic Presbyterian Caucus and the Hispanic Presbyterian Youth organizations.

 Arriving on the campus of PC(USA)-related Trinity University, it was evident that one of the strongest traits of the Hispanic community is the family-like astrosphere we create when we gather together to celebrate our heritage, our struggles and specially our faith. 

Opening night worship displayed the many beautiful colors of our skins, the many sounds of our speech and the many different ways we worship the triune God.  Worship gave us the opportunity to celebrate the multicultural diversity within our Hispanic/Latino identity, for when we come together to worship the Lord we are united in purpose and ministry.

Even though we share a common language, the different ways in which we speak Spanish is the first evident sign of diversity within our ethnic group.  Walking into a room full of Hispanic/Latino men and women is a great opportunity to listen and try to guess which country each individual is from.

For instance, Puerto Ricans tend to not pronounce the last letter of any word. Cubans tend to  emphasize the sharp c, t and q sounds. And the song-like way Colombians speak every word makes you understand the beauty of the Spanish language.  

It was comical to hear each guest speaker and leader apologize to the audience in advance lest they offend someone by using any word that might carry a different meaning for them in their native country.

For example, the word "pantalla" in Puerto Rico means earring, in El Salvador it means to have a false appearance of oneself in order to impress others and in most every other Hispanic country it is used only to describe a movie or television screen

The auditorium stage was festooned with the bright colors for which Hispanic celebrations are known. Red, yellow, bright orange and green reminded us that when enter into the presence of the Lord we are at home. 

The liturgy mixed contemporary and traditional elements and the singing embraced Spanish, English and even a little Portuguese.  Perhaps the most exciting element of the worship celebration was the parade of national flags, accompanied by thanks to God for the opportunity to maintain our national identity in the United States.  

And to praise the One who has brought us from darkness into marvelous light.

Ruthie Merced serves as assistant to the stated clerk for Central Florida Presbytery in Orlando, Fla.