President Gordon B. Hinckley visited five European nations June 11-16, reminding members that they are a covenant people, and then in a tender, grandfatherly way, telling them he loved them.
He encouraged the Saints to find happiness through keeping the commandments and having loving families. Regarding families, he said, in a newspaper interview in Berlin: "No nation can rise higher than the quality of its family life."The Berlin Regional Conference June 15-16 brought together many members from the former German Democratic Republic. Their faithfulness was evident by the more than 50 percent who attended.
Accompanied by his wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, President Hinckley began his European trip in Spain (see related article on this page). From June 12-14, he spoke to missionaries in the afternoons and members at firesides in the evenings in Brussels, Belgium; The Hague, Netherlands; and Copenhagen, Denmark.
On June 15 he traveled to Berlin for his longest day yet, speaking twice at length to priesthood leaders during a four-hour leadership meeting, then to missionaries in a gathering that went 15 minutes over the usual hour.
On June 16 he was interviewed by representatives of two of Berlin's major newspapers, the Gazette and the World, before speaking to about 3,722 at the Berlin Regional Conference.
He also found time to conduct Church business, visit two ambasadors in Brussels, and view the paintings of the Savior by Danish artist Carl Bloch at the Fredricksborg Castle and the original Christus statue of Christ by Thorvaldsen at the Vor Fruc Kirke in Copenhagen, Denmark.
History would be hard pressed to show where more countries have been visited during a shorter period of time by the president of the Church than President Hinckley's recent Asian trip followed closely by his European trip - 13 countries in 24 days.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, June, accompanied the Church president and spoke at the firesides. In Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, Elder Dean L. Larsen of the Seventy and president of the Europe West Area and his wife, Geneal, accompanied the group and addressed the firesides. Elder Francisco Vinas of the Seventy and his wife, Cristina, also accompanied the group in Spain and spoke at the temple groundbreaking ceremony. Elder Graham W. Doxey of the Seventy and a counselor in the Europe North Area presidency and his wife, Mary Lou, were with the Church leaders and spoke in Copenhagen. Elder Dieter Uchtdorf of the Seventy and a counselor in the Europe West Area and his wife, Harriett, accompanied the group and spoke at the conference in Berlin. The General Authorities also spoke at missionary and leadership meetings during their respective visits.
In Brussels, which is NATO headquarters, President Hinckley was met on the tarmac and welcomed to Belgium by Ambassador Robert E. Hunter, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, and Alan John Blinken, U.S. ambassador to Belgium.
He then entered a city of multiple ornamented stone cathedrals and castles, narrow cobbled streets and monuments darkened over time. At the local stake center - with a European-style wall-on-the-sidewalk front - missionaries crowded in to hear the prophet. That evening, some 1,200 French-speaking Saints gathered in the Palais des Congres and reverently listened to the prophet's words for them.
"It was 59 years ago that a president of the Church came to Brussels. President Heber J. Grant had come to England to observe the 100th anniversary of the gospel being preached in England, the first overseas mission of the Church," President Hinckley said. "It is hard for me to believe that it was 59 years ago, while he was on that mission, that he came here - and there has not been another president of the Church visit Brussels in all those years. I'm so glad we came. And I am glad that you came.
"I want to thank you for the goodness of your lives, for your love for the Lord, for your obedience to His commandments, and for all the good that you do."
He promised the members that if they were "active in the Church and undertake every responsibility given you, you will grow in capacity to handle it, and if you do so, your opportunities will be multiplied and every challenge will become a blessing."
In the Netherlands, a country green and flat - striped and dotted by occasional canals and ponds - President Hinckley spoke to missionaries and in the evening to some 2,000 members gathered in the Nederlands Congresgeoouw Den Haag.
"You are the very best people in all this great nation," he said. "I thank you for what you do. Please know of our love for you. A few in a branch here, and a few in a branch there. You are true. You have endured the vicissitudes of life. You have stood up to the unkind words of some of your friends. You have been tested and found true. God bless you, my beloved brothers and sisters, my dear associates in this, the work of the Lord. We are all part of the same family, sons and daughters of God, who have taken upon ourselves the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and made solemn covenants. There are 9 million of us now. In another year or two there will be 10 million of us. Sometimes we do feel lonely, but we are part of a great family bound together under a solemn covenant with God, linked in faith with His eternal plan."
Soon after arriving in Denmark, President and Sister Hinckley and others visited the church part of the Fredricksborg Castle where in a shadowy room hang the paintings of the Savior's life by artist Carl Bloch. In that august and ancient setting, vivid paintings seemed to re-awaken the reality of the trials of the Son of God. President Hinckley later commented that the paintings were some of the finest ever made of the Savior.
In the church where the Christus statue stands in an alcove above the altar, President and Sister Hinckley viewed the religious masterpiece in silence. In the same room, heroic-sized statues of the Twelve Apostles line the walls. President Hinckley observed that the attendant didn't seem to know why the artist had portrayed Apostle Peter with a ring of keys in his hands.
While President Hinckley's group was there, a boy's choir came and began practicing. The prophet sat in a pew and listened to the boys' warming up, finally blending into a high harmony.
At the firesides in Copenhagen - held separately so the membership of the Copenhagen and Aarhus stakes could be accommodated in the meetinghouse, President Hinckley noted the significance of the day: June 14.
"One hundred forty-six years ago today, the first missionary came to preach the gospel in Denmark," he said. "Pres. Johan Stenholm Koch has given me a charge to come back here June 14 in the year 2000. That will mark the 150th anniversary of the beginning of missionary work here in Denmark. The Book of Mormon was first translated from the English into Danish. You people have a tremendous inheritance."
He then challenged the Saints to increase their membership in a major way.
"A people of holiness we ought to be - and must be if we are to live worthily of the blessings of the Almighty.
"There are now 9 million or more of us. There ought to be a lot more in Denmark. Well, that's up to you - I believe you could double the membership of the Church here in five years. I really believe that. If you would work and pray and pray and work and concentrate on doing it at every opportunity and go forward in faith and without fear."
At the regional conference in Berlin, President Hinckley spoke with reporters before the session began.
Asked by the reporter what his message for Germany was, President Hinckley responded, "I would say to return to God and look to Him for guidance." He continued, "The world's standards are slipping everywhere. Family life is crumbling. My message to the people is to strengthen your families. Have families with a mother and father, and children who are loved. A family who prays together to achieve a common good.
"No nation can rise higher than its family life."
He noted the Church members are a happy people, who find their happiness through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"It is a happy Church," he told the reporter. "We invite you to get happy."
He mentioned the interviews in his address. He noted that he explained to reporters that the Church is different from other religions for a number of reasons, including the statement by Joseph Smith that the Church is distinct because it has the Holy Ghost. Other reasons are that the lay ministry in the Church is not paid, and that Latter-day Saints believe in modern revelation.
"Some say the canon of scripture is full. But why would God reveal His will in simpler times but refuse to do so in more complex times?"
He urged the young members to be true to their heritage and said they were youth of great promise. "I want to say to each of you: Be true to the tradition of your families concerning this the work of the Lord."
He counseled them to be morally clean despite the filth of the world, and promised that if they did so, there would come a time when they would get on their knees and thank the Lord for this blessing.
At the conclusion of his remarks, he became emotional as he referred to Berlin.
"I pray that the days of oppression will never return."