APIA, SAMOA — Just months after fire destroyed the Apia Samoa Temple, nearly 1,000 members gathered on the temple site Oct. 19 to break ground for a new edifice.

"With the loss of that great temple, a great emptiness came upon the saints of Samoa. We can now rejoice with you once again; on this site, a house will be erected to the Lord," said Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy who presided at the ceremony.

Showers had threatened to dampen the service as a rainy Sunday began in the small village of Pesega where the temple site is located. The day turned into a very comfortable overcast afternoon as the groundbreaking service got underway.

The Samoan Latter-day Saints counted it a double blessing; water in the morning for the dry spell they are experiencing on the island and pleasant weather for the service in the afternoon.

Elder Simmons, first counselor in the Pacific Islands Area Presidency, also conducted the service. Speakers included Daniel A. Betham, recently released as temple president of the Apia Samoa Temple; Elder Beaver T. Ho Ching, an Area Authority Seventy; Bishop Richard C. Edgley, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; and Elder Simmons.

The Prime Minister of Samoa, the Honourable Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi; five cabinet members; the Speaker of the House of Parliament; and a member of Parliament attended as special guests of the Area Presidency.

The Reverend Deacon Kasiano Leaupepe of the Catholic Church of Samoa and several business and media executives were also among the invited guests who participated in the groundbreaking.

Bishop Edgley told those attending the service, "The Lord loves the Samoan people. President Hinckley loves the Samoan people. Almost within a week of the burning of this temple, President Hinckley sent a letter to the Area Presidency saying, 'We will rebuild the temple in Samoa.' "

He concluded by telling the members, "These holy words, 'Holiness to the Lord' will again hallow this sacred ground."

President Betham's comments were directed to those of other faiths in attendance. Chapels of other faiths throughout Samoa are called Malumalu's, which is the same word used for "temple" in the Samoan translation of the Bible.

He explained, "We only call our temples Malumalu's, not our chapels. That which takes place inside the temple are sacred and holy ordinances for both the living and the dead, which is different and apart from our normal worship services held in our chapels or Falesa's."

Elder Beaver Ho Ching bore testimony in Samoan of his gratefulness to Heavenly Father and for President Hinckley's quick decision to rebuild the temple.

He shared President Howard W. Hunter's counsel and challenge that every member be temple worthy and that every adult member would be worthy of, and carry, a current temple recommend, even though there is no temple in their land.

A 62-voice multi-stake choir led by Sister Merita Fitisimanu performed at the groundbreaking. Choir members were selected from the 11 stakes and one district on Upolo Island.

An older chapel that shares the temple site is being razed and a new chapel will be built on a site located across the street from the new temple. This creates a larger site for the temple and will afford a better view to those passing by.

President Hinckley announced the rebuilding of the Apia Samoa Temple shortly after the original temple was destroyed by fire on July 9. The charred remains of the original structure are now cleared and the site is ready for construction to begin. The construction period is expected to take 18-24 months.