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New temples in Mexico are making eternal impact in thousands of lives

SHARE New temples in Mexico are making eternal impact in thousands of lives

Perhaps one or two high priests ushering at the dedication of the Ciudad Juarez Mexico Temple in February reflected a moment upon the event of Jan. 7, 1876, when a team of LDS missionaries crossed the nearby Rio Grande River and, for the first time, sounded the gospel's message to Mexico.

Maybe a local seminary teacher in Tampico paused during the dedication of her hometown temple last May and imagined the first LDS Church meeting in Mexico in April of 1876, when 500 people gathered in a Chihuahua cockfighting arena and learned the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.

It's possible a few full-time missionaries arranging chairs for the Hermosillo Sonora Mexico temple dedication last February talked about a morning in Hermosillo 123 years earlier when two of their predecessors, Elders Meliton G. Trejo and Louis Garff, baptized five people — the first Mexicans to join the Restored Church.

And it's certain scores of folks participating in dedicatory sessions inside beautiful, new temples in towns called Oaxaca, Villahermosa or Merida were reminded of Dec. 2, 1983, when a House of the Lord was opened in Mexico City, allowing thousands of faithful Mexicans to claim their temple blessings inside their own country.

Now Mexican members — indeed, LDS people throughout the world — will forever remember the year 2000 as a monumental chapter in Church history. Call it the year of the Mexico temple. Since February, temples have been dedicated in Ciudad Juarez, Hermosillo, Oaxaca, Tuxtla Gutierrez, Tampico, Villahermosa, Merida and Veracruz. In addition, a temple was dedicated in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, in 1999 and the Church's eleventh Mexican temple is scheduled to be opened next year in Guadalajara. A temple has been announced for Monterrey.

Once, members in southern Mexican states like Tabasco and Yucatan had to spend a week on the road to reach the temple in Mesa, Arizona. Now a temple is within a four-hour drive from almost anywhere in the republic. There are more temples in Mexico, per membership capita, than any other large country in the world.

The Lord and His prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, are truly mindful of Mexico and her nearly 800,000 members.

"This has been such an incredible year," said Carlos Rene Alvarez, a Tampico resident who joined the Church as a boy while living near Colonia Juarez. "I always knew this [temple growth] would happen in Mexico, I just didn't think it would be so soon."

Brother Alvarez was called to be the stake clerk when the first Mexican stake was organized in 1960. Later, he assisted with the dedication of the Mexico City Mexico Temple. He has been attentive to the promises and prophecies made by ancient and modern-day prophets concerning the lands of Lehi. When he moved to Tampico he did so knowing "there would be temples everywhere in Mexico."

Few people are as sensitive and appreciative of the Church here as Elder Carl B. Pratt — a Seventy, native of Mexico and member of the Pratt clan that has been pivotal in establishing and administering the Church in Latin America. The first 12 months of the new millennium in Mexico, he said, will never be forgotten.

"An absolutely marvelous year, no doubt about it," said Elder Call, who presides over the Mexico South Area.

When President Hinckley announced in 1998 that the Church would build 30 temples, many hoped a Mexican city or two would be included in his plan. Elder Call remembers feeling "blown away" when he learned a third of the new edifices would be found in Mexico. The members, he adds, were even more excited.

"The members here have generally been faithful temple goers," Elder Call said, recalling the efforts of thousands of Mexican saints who sacrificed much to participate in costly and sometimes risky trips to the Mexico City or Mesa, Arizona temples.

"This has been a spiritual 'watershed' year in Mexico," said Elder Lynn A. Mickelsen of the Seventy and president of the Mexico North Area. "The stake presidents and bishops have seen in part the vision of President Hinckley and are working strenuously to prepare the saints for the temple."

Thousands have received the priesthood and are temple worthy, Elder Mickelsen said, adding that devotion to family and Church has increased as the presence of the temple has been felt.

The temples' influence is being felt in Mexico beyond the LDS population. Open house visits have improved the image of the faith among government officials and other churches. Elder Mickelsen recalled a television reporter leaving the temple grounds of one of the new temples and commenting "she had never felt such serenity and peace and didn't want to leave."

"Our members have worked very hard for these temples," said Saidy Castillo de Gaona, a sister in the Merida Mexico Stake. "Many here have sometimes traveled more than 26 hours to go to the temple in Mexico City. Many of them believed their sacrifices would be rewarded with a temple in their own city."

With each dedication, visiting Church authorities have admonished parents and their children to remember this historic year of temple building in Mexico. Many have listened.

"We are already seeing changes in places like Oaxaca, where members have performed 5,600 deceased endowments," Elder Pratt said, adding that more than 100 Oaxaca district members have received their own endowments since March.

E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com