CARACAS, Venezuela -- Filled with emotion and gratitude, hundreds of leaders and their families in the Caracas area gathered Jan. 10 to experience history in the making as ground was broken for the first temple in Venezuela.

Elder Francisco J. Vinas of the Seventy and president of the South America North Area presided and spoke at the ceremony, held at the Caurimare meetinghouse near where the temple will soon be started.He was accompanied by his counselors in the area presidency, Elder Robert J. Whetten of the Seventy and Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, who both spoke at the event. Also attending were Elders Francisco Gimenez, Daniel Johnson and Carlos Vargas, Area Authority Seventies; presidents of the four missions in Venezuela, 16 stake presidents and many bishops and high counselors. Elders Johnson and Vargas shared their testimonies.

The Caracas Venezuela Stake choir and the Venezuela Caracas Mission choir provided music for the groundbreaking ceremony.

In his remarks, Elder Vinas said that as the first shovel was turned in the groundbreaking, "Let us establish an analogy; let us think of today as the groundbreaking for a change in our lives. And as all temples are built upon solid foundations, in a like manner, our lives need foundations that will sustain us and allow us to grow spiritually."

He mentioned several things that need to be done before the temple is completed. One of these is to prepare for the open house that will be held prior to the dedication of the temple.

"This will be a special occasion to invite our family, friends and neighbors, to come here and here to understand the significance of this house. But the open house requires preparation, and for this I am asking each of you to first prepare yourselves."

He explained that a temple recommend will be required to enter the temple for the dedication. A temple presidency will be called and they will be responsible to see that only worthy people with recommends enter. However, all the members will be responsible to see that the temple is maintained in a clean and presentable manner.

"Do you imagine what a privilege it is to go to the House of the Lord and be able to prepare it so that others who come will find it clean?"

He encouraged all those present and "able to enjoy this day, and whose hearts comprehended the things spoken of, to leave with the resolution to begin a change in their lives that will permit them to enter the temple, to have a life clean enough to bring into the House of the Lord."

Elder Whetten remarked that the groundbreaking had come not only through the efforts of those gathered at the ceremony, but also through the efforts of many from the past, including the missionaries who had preached the "good news of great joy," and early members, many of whom had since died.

He asked the members "to first prepare our hearts by pardoning all those who have offended us. Next, we ought to increase our love -- that attribute that distinguishes us as Latter-day Saints -- beginning with our families, our wife or husband, our children and then to others who do not belong to the Church."

He encouraged members to also increase their understanding of what the temple means, especially the temple covenants and the great blessing of being able to commence in the saving ordinances.

Elder Gonzalez noted that in the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked "that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord's house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness." (D&C 109:13.)

He said that to think "we are constructing such a house ought to lift us to reflect on the consequences this will have in our lives." Think about being "so close to heaven, literally, in a place where those who we love but who are not members of the Church are not able to enter to receive their covenants may suddenly feel the influence and be constrained to recognize that this is the Lord's House, and that He has sanctified it."