A prophetic promise fulfilled: San Juan Puerto Rico Temple is dedicated

President Russell M. Nelson’s assurance that ‘better days are ahead’ for Puerto Rico comes to pass with Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s dedication of new San Juan temple 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — This sometimes storm-tossed and beleaguered Caribbean isle is filled with friendly, faithful, fortified Saints who heard their beloved Prophet make them a promise one year after deadly Hurricane Maria devastated the territory in September 2017. 

“As you individually grow to become more of the person God wants you to be, you can know for yourself that better days are ahead for the people of Puerto Rico,” President Russell M. Nelson said while visiting San Juan in September 2018.

One month later, he announced a temple for Puerto Rico in October 2018 general conference.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, accompanied by his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, dedicated the new temple on Sunday, Jan. 15, bringing a new light to La Isla del Encanto — the Island of Enchantment.

“The temple will bless this island,” he said. “It has had a lot of challenges in recent years, natural disasters and other kinds of difficulties that have been serious and caused a lot of destruction. It will make a difference.”

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Elder Jorge M. Alvarado, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Caribbean Area presidency, and his wife, Sister Cari Lu Alvarado, are “Boricuas” — Puerto Rican born and raised. 

“This will bring what we need,” Elder Alvarado said. “Puerto Rico needs joy, it needs happiness. There is so much beauty around us, but now with the temple, people can have hope of a better Puerto Rico.”

Ginny Cartagena from the Caguas Puerto Rico Stake felt that hope Sunday morning as she stood in the bright Caribbean sunshine on the temple grounds.

“It’s such a special day. We’ve been waiting for this for so long. It means hope for all of us, for our children and our future grandchildren,” she said. 

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The temple is like home

Elder Christofferson and Sister Christofferson toured the temple on Saturday, Jan. 14, the day before the dedication.

The San Juan Puerto Rico Temple features a domed spire rising over the temple entrance, very much in the Spanish colonial style found not just in historic Old San Juan and its famous Castillo San Felipe del Morro, but also in many homes in “el campo” — the countryside. 

The interior glass patterns were inspired by the quatrefoil motifs also found in Spanish colonial architecture. Similar patterns are repeated in ordinance-room fabrics and the patterns on the tile floor, using the colors blue, gold, white opal and green. Some of the artwork resembles views of the trees in mountains leading down to the beach. And many paintings throughout the temple depict the Savior Jesus Christ.

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Sister Christofferson said the local decor shows her how the Lord loves His people.

“Each temple is so very specific in its decoration to resonate with the people who live in that location,” she said. “Whenever you walk into a temple, you will feel that the Lord is saying, ‘This is the house of the Lord, this is my house, but I want you to come home.’ That’s what He’s trying to tell us.” 

This 7,000-square-foot temple sits on a little less than three acres of ground. Elder Christofferson said it feels very much like a home, and it is the Lord’s house “where we are invited to be with Him.”

Sister Kathy Christofferson and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pose for a portrait outside of the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Every temple — whatever decor, architecture or size — has all of the things necessary to connect earth with heaven, he added. “The power, the ordinances, the covenants are all the same in every temple. They are identical.” 

This is the first new temple Elder Christofferson has dedicated. He rededicated the Asunción Paraguay Temple on Nov. 3, 2019. Then, like now, he spoke in fluent Spanish, which he learned on a mission as a young man to Argentina and has practiced over many years of his career and Church assignments in Latin America.

Elder Christofferson has been to Puerto Rico many times in the past, including when he formed the Caguas Puerto Rico Stake in 2006 and a weeklong ministry in November 2018. “I feel like I have a history here,” he said. “That is special to me for that reason. But to be here for this crowning moment when a temple is dedicated, who could ask for more?”

Symbolic cornerstone ceremony

Just after the start of the first dedicatory session, the choir sang “Redeemer of Israel” as Elder Christofferson came outside for the symbolic cornerstone ceremony.

He was accompanied by Sister Christofferson, Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and his wife, Sister Nancy Duncan; Elder Benjamin De Hoyos, General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Evelia De Hoyos; Elder and Sister Alvarado; and Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, and his wife, Sister Carol Waddell.

Speaking to the group of guests in Spanish, Elder Christofferson testified that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of the gospel, “in whom we trust.” And he testified that Jesus Christ lives. 

Those in the leadership group on the stand were invited to join Elder Christofferson in placing mortar around the cornerstone of the temple. Then six children were invited to also take part.

The moment made Daniela Rosa, 12, a little nervous with everyone’s eyes on her. But with Elder Christofferson’s encouragement, she felt more settled. And she could not stop smiling.

“When I saw the elders coming out all in white, I got excited and I almost cried — but it was of happiness,” she said.

When Daniela comes to the temple the next time, she will be coming with a youth group from the San Juan Puerto Rico Stake — and it will be the first time she’ll be able to do baptisms for the dead and help someone else have the opportunity to accept the gospel.

Marina Rosa, Daniela Rosa, Alexander Rosa and Wilfred Rosa wait outside of the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple for the cornerstone ceremony during the temple’s dedication in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Faithful commitment

When the Alvarados got married 30 years ago, Sister Alvarado said they said a prayer together in their basement apartment with a promise that they would serve the Lord. Back then, the closest temple was in Washington, D.C., and the Alvarados committed to go to the temple once a year.

“I think if we’re faithful, and we work, and we give service to the Lord, He will bless us to have that opportunity,” Sister Alvarado said, “and at the end of the day, we have one here now, a miracle and a blessing. To think that we wanted to go to the temple once a year and now we can do that once a week or more.”

Sister Cari Lu Alvarado; Elder Jorge M. Alvarado, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Caribbean Area presidency; and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles talk to media representatives during an interview in the Arrival Center on the temple grounds of the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Elder Christofferson said that faithful commitment multiplied in many other couples and families paved the way for this temple and for many others in the future. 

The dedication caused Elder Alvarado to reflect on the generations who passed on before the temple was built and how happy they must feel to see this day. “We need to take it to the next generation. The Lord will expect us to set the example to be a temple-attending people.”

Elder Christofferson agreed. “I think now that He has fulfilled the promise to build it, He expects us to use it.”

The Lord has a desire to hasten His work, Elder Christofferson added, explaining that this is a beautiful time in the history of the Church where temples are being built closer to the people. 

Elder Alvarado said people from the other side of the veil will impact their family members and help them receive the ordinances of salvation. 

“My impression is that the heavens will be opened, and many will receive the fullness of the blessings they are hoping for,” he said. “More than ever in Puerto Rico, there will be many that will be brought to Jesus Christ because the temple is here.”

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Needing the temple

Working as the local temple committee chairs meant a lot of work for Hector and Amarilis Alvarez — and a lot of blessings as they stayed humble and followed instructions. As they sacrificed their time and talents to prepare the temple and its grounds, they knew the Lord would take care of the rest. 

“During the open house, everyone felt the Spirit, everyone,” Hector Alvarez said. He saw miracles among the people who came — for example, the experience softened one man’s heart and changed his life as he committed to return to church.

Hector and Amarilis Alvarez, San Juan Puerto Rico temple committee chairs, pose for a portrait outside of the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Puerto Rico San Juan Mission President Joey Lee Skinner said the temple has already led to stronger conversion for some of the members — and new conversion among their friends. One man went through the open house and wanted to be able to be sealed to his wife for eternity. He started meeting with the missionaries the next day and has since been baptized.

“The temple will also affect the work as missionaries and members will be able to go with new converts to perform baptisms for the dead,” President Skinner said. “That will be a tremendous blessing.”

President Skinner served a full-time mission on the island himself when he was a young man. He said it was touching to him to think of the pioneers who stayed in Puerto Rico and built up the Church. Seeing them at the temple was emotional for him and for them. 

“As one member said, ‘The Lord has given us a temple not because we deserve it, but because we need it.’ They are so excited,” President Skinner said.

Abigail and Amanda Toro, both 16, from the Toa Baja Puerto Rico Stake, described a feeling of “excitement and nervousness at the same time” for the opportunity to be at the temple dedication. 

Abigail Toro had a dream in 2018 when she was 12 years old that a temple would be built in San Juan. Then, she was in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City during the last session of the October 2018 general conference where the new temple was announced. From that point she looked forward to the groundbreaking, open house and dedication with a feeling of gratitude and expectation.

Amanda Toro and Abigail Toro wait for the cornerstone ceremony during the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple dedication in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Elder Walter F. González, a General Authority Seventy and then-president of the Caribbean Area, broke ground for the temple on May 4, 2019. The sacred building is the Church’s first temple in the territory and the third in the Caribbean. Dedicated and operating temples are also in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

While they have been in the Santo Domingo temple district until now, the Toro sisters have been able to fly to the continental United States and attend temples there in several cities — and they keep a list of the temples they’ve been able to see. 

But having a temple in Puerto Rico means “now we can be closer to God,” said Amanda Toro. “We don’t have to buy a ticket and go over there.” And it means they can share the experience with other youth from the Church and invite their friends who are not members to learn more about the temple.

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The isles of the sea

Puerto Rico being a territory of the U.S. means some Latter-day Saints from the island move to the states. But their love of Puerto Rico runs deep, and many flew back to see the temple, said President Skinner.

“The temple is small, but like these small islands here, the impact is huge,” he said.

When asked what he hoped others around the world knew about Puerto Rico, Hector Alvarez said: “People here are family. We like to share with others and we are very close. It’s a small island, but this island is a beautiful country, and we love to be happy.”

Amarilis Alvarez said she has noticed that people coming from many different places want to come see the temple — even from large cruise ships that stop at the port in San Juan. Cars drive up to the front and people take photos.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets Britney Nielsen and her mother, Jalene Nielsen, as he leaves the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple dedication in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets Elsa Valentine and President Pierre Luigi Gonzalez Perez, San Juan Puerto Rico Stake president, before he leaves the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple dedication in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The temple district also includes St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Branches of the Church on those islands will also be blessed by this new temple in Puerto Rico, said Lesser Antilles District President Alexander J. Dunn.

He described the faithfulness of the members in the Caribbean — and the gratitude they have that the Lord has remembered “those who are upon the isles of the sea” (2 Nephi 29:7).

“Traveling to the temple still comes at great cost and sacrifice to these members, but I also see because of that how special attending the temple is to each of them. They love the temple,” President Dunn said.

The work is growing in these islands, he said, with many people joining the Church and striving to keep the commandments.

President Edgardo Cartagena, second counselor in the Caguas Puerto Rico Stake presidency, thinks that because of the new temple, some of the people who left Puerto Rico for the states will return to live on the island and make it stronger. As they attend the temple and keep their covenants, it will bless their lives and bless the territory.

His stake used to hold fundraisers like car washes to raise money to take youth to the temple. “Now we can call and schedule something and we are there,” he said.

President Cartagena referred to the Prophet’s words from four years ago, that better days were to come for the people here. 

“I have faith in that, too, that better days for Puerto Rico are ahead. We’ve been blessed,” he said.

San Juan Puerto Rico Temple

Address: 123 Calle Ronda Urb. Villa Santa Andalucía, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Announced: Oct. 7, 2018, by President Russell M. Nelson

Groundbreaking: May 4, 2019, by Elder Walter F. González, a General Authority Seventy

Open house: Dec. 1 through Dec. 17, 2022, excluding Sundays

Dedication: Jan. 15, 2023, by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Of note: It is the 176th dedicated temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Site: 2.97 acres

Total area: 6,988 square feet 

Ordinance rooms: Two instruction rooms that can double as sealing rooms; one baptistry

Architectural features: Exterior is concrete, with a combination of stonework creating a Spanish colonial architecture style prevalent in the history of the territory. Interior glass patterns were inspired by quatrefoil motifs, with similar patterns in fabrics using the colors blue, gold, white opal and green. The exterior art glass reflects the natural beauty of the landscaping that adorns the island.

The San Juan Puerto Rico Temple is pictured in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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