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SALT LAKE CITY — The 181st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened without church President Thomas S. Monson in his usual place. According to church spokesman Cody Craynor, the 84-year-old church leader was "delayed en route" to the conference. He arrived in the Conference Center during the singing of the intermediate hymn, "Redeemer of Israel."
"Hello!" he said jauntily when called upon to speak right after the hymn. "I wonder who I should call upon to substitute for me?"
He didn't offer an explanation for why he was late, but he did immediately announce the construction of six new temples, to be built in Provo, Utah; Paris, France; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Durban, South Africa; Barranquilla, Colombia; and Star Valley, Wyo.
"I think I'll dedicate that one," President Monson quipped after announcing the new Star Valley temple. "There's good fishing there!"
The announcement of the new temple in Provo drew an audible response from the Conference Center congregation. President Monson explained that the temple would be built on the site of the recently burned Provo Tabernacle in downtown Provo. He indicated that the current Provo Temple is among the busiest in the church — the new temple will take some of the pressure off that temple.
The church's plans to build a temple in Paris were actually announced earlier this year. It will be the first temple in France.
The Kinshasa and Durban temples will be the fourth and fifth temples on the African continent. The others are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; and Aba, Nigeria.
The Barranquilla temple will be the second in Colombia. The first is in Bogota. The new temple will serve 45,000 members of the Church in Colombia and Venezuela.
The new temple in Star Valley will serve members of the church living in western Wyoming, who now must travel to Idaho Falls and Rexburg in Idaho to attend the temple — a journey that can be difficult during winter months.
"No church-built facility is more important than a temple," President Monson said. "Temples are places where relationships are sealed together to last through the eternities. We are grateful for all the many temples across the world and for the blessing they are in the lives of our members."
President Monson said that although the church is making progress in placing temples closer to its worldwide membership, "there are still areas of the world where temples are so distant from our members that they cannot afford the travel required to get to them." He reminded members of the General Temple Patron Assistance Fund, which provides "a one-time visit to the temple for those who otherwise would not be able to go to the temple," and he encouraged those who would like to contribute to this fund to do so through their regular church contributions.
This conference marks the 48th year since President Monson was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.