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The milestone creation on Sunday of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 2,000th stake, important as it was, was overshadowed by the first visit by the president of the church in nearly 20 years.

President Howard W. Hunter was welcomed by thousands of members of the church to a multi-stake conference, where the Mexico City Mexico Contreras Stake was created and the presidencies of three other stakes were reorganized.Excited at the privilege of seeing President Hunter, the members were also well aware of the historic nature of the meeting, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they said.

President Hunter, who was vigorous throughout his Dec. 8-12 visit, was also the center of attention at a lighting ceremony held Sunday evening on the Mexico City Temple grounds. Members turned out in great numbers for both events, with 4,250 at the conference and about 12,000 at the lighting ceremony Sunday evening.

President Hunter told the conference gathering that the events of the weekend are "further evidence that the Lord is watching over and directing his kingdom on Earth."

He said he was in Mexico City 19 years ago with Elder J. Thomas Fyans, now an emeritus general authority, when 16 stakes were created in one week, including two of the stakes, Churubusco and Ermita, involved Sunday. They were the 716th and 718th stakes, respectively, of the church.

"Who can doubt that the inspiration of heaven is in this work when one considers that in the short space of 19 years we have now created the 2,000th stake of the church," President Hunter said.

The 87-year-old church leader acknowledged "the many faithful saints who have given their time, effort and, in some cases, their lives in service to the church over the years since the first missionaries came here in 1876." He said the first stake of the church in Mexico was organized 33 years ago - on Dec. 3, 1961.

Membership in Mexico, he said, was then about 25,000. By 1972 it reached 100,000. Eleven years later, when the temple was dedicated, membership was estimated to be 240,000. Population of the church in Mexico is now nearing 700,000, President Hunter said.

Referring to this and other progress, President Hunter said the Lord, "through his servants, has brought this miracle to pass. The work will continue to go forward in strength and vitality." President Hunter said, commending members for their "faithfulness and diligence in accepting the gospel plan of Jesus Christ as restored to the Earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith."

President Hunter was accompanied to the conference by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Lino Alvarez of the Seventy and president of the Mexico South Area.

President Hunter was accompanied by his wife, Inis, and Elder Nelson by his wife, Dantzel.

Other general authorities attended the lightning ceremony, including Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve, and Elder Angel Abrea and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Seventy.

At the multistake conference, held in the Mexico City Mexico Churubusco Stake Center, members arrived as early as 8 p.m. Saturday and slept on the sidewalks outside the center to ensure seats for the following morning.

Emotions were near the surface as the new stake presidents, including Victor Salinas, a young attorney called as president of the 2,000th stake, expressed their feelings.

Those feelings grew more poignant as Elder Nelson spoke entirely in Spanish, promising the members blessings as increased spirituality as they keep the commandments.

Tears flowed freely at the conclusion of the conference. As the prophet left, members clustered around President Hunter's car. As he waved goodbye, they sang, wept and lifted their children for one last wave.

That evening, President Hunter hosted a number of religious leaders at the Visitors Center, including leaders of the large Jewish community and a number of Protestant and other religions.

Afterward, he was taken to the lighting ceremony where members stretched from one end of the parking lot to the other. Leaders had expected more people but feared the crowed would exceed the capacity of the grounds, so they did not encourage members to come.

In his remarks at the ceremony, President Hunter said, "How beautifully symbolic during the Christmas season will be the many lights illuminated tonight, which will remind us of the Light of the World."

He said, "While it will be a beautiful sight to see the lights of Christmas on this square, it is more important to have human lives illuminated by an acceptance of him who is the Light of the World. Truly we should hold him up as our guide and exemplar."

President Hunter concluded, "May these beautiful lights be a constant reminder during the Christmas season of our love for and dependence on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."