Editor's note: Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver, together with Deseret News staff writer Tad Walch and photographer Jeff Allred, is chronicling the South American ministry of President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the impact the church is having in various countries. Today they report from Chile.
CONCEPCION, Chile — President Russell M. Nelson concluded his five-country South America ministry tour with the "heavenly crescendo" of the dedication of the Concepcion Chile Temple here Sunday.
“We feel very grateful,” said the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during an interview Sunday evening. “The people are so loving and so anxious to serve the Lord and to serve each other. … It really is a sacred feeling you have among them.”
The dedication marked the fifth and final stop of President Nelson’s tour, which began Oct. 19 and included stops in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay before ending in Chile.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who accompanied President Nelson on the tour, called the experience remarkable, with that crescendo apparent during three temple dedicatory sessions Sunday. “Today just felt absolutely heavenly,” he said during the interview. “It was punctuated by the spirit and the people and their preparation spiritually.”
President Nelson, who has now visited Chile 11 times, first traveled to the country as a cardiac surgeon, then returning as an apostle. Sunday marked his first time in Chile as president of the church.
When President Nelson was born in 1924, there were no members of the church in South America. During his lifetime, however, church membership in South America has exploded, now surpassing 4 million. The church has 18 temples in South America.
The dedication of a temple is an important conclusion to the tour, said President Nelson’s wife, Sister Wendy Nelson.
“He has seen the faith of the people,” she said. “He has seen the love of the people for the Lord. Now he has seen the love of the people for the temple. That means everything to my husband to see that.”
Located near the Biobio River along the Pacific Coast in central Chile, the Concepcion Chile Temple — the second temple in Chile and the 160th temple worldwide — will serve some 122,000 Church members living in southern Chile and southwest Argentina.
President Thomas S. Monson announced the temple in October 2009. On Feb. 27, 2010, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, triggering a tsunami and generating a blackout that impacted 93 percent of the country’s population.
Luis E. Fuentes, local temple committee chair, said the new temple exceeds building standards in Chile and is constructed on a floating foundation. Inside the temple, a 10-magnitude earthquake, for example, would feel more like a 2-magnitude earthquake, he said.
On the eve of the dedication, President Nelson met with Chilean community and political leaders, who called the new temple a symbol of the larger impact of the church in their country — where there are 584,654 members, 77 stakes, 10 missions and the two temples. The Santiago Chile Temple was dedicated on Sept. 15, 1983.
In addition, he addressed 1,500 youth Saturday night during the Concepcion Chile Temple youth devotional, noting that temples stand as a “symbol of our faith.” The devotional was broadcast to the 28,000 youth in the temple district.
“I never dreamed we would have a temple here,” said Jorge Valencia, a local television reporter who was one of many to cover the event.
President Nelson asked Paola Caro’s son, 5-year-old Agustin Escobar, to assist him during the temple cornerstone ceremony.
Historically held to mark the setting of the foundation stone of the temple, the ceremony today was a way to honor Jesus Christ, “the cornerstone of the church,” said President Nelson.
Caro said she hopes her son will remember being with President Nelson for the rest of his life.
President Nelson said it is his calling to reach out to members like Caro across the world.
“This is a global ministry. We are prophets for the whole world, all of God’s children, not just the members of the church,” he said.
With more than 200 countries in the world, the five President Nelson and Elder Stevenson visited on this tour in South America seems like a “small drop in the bucket.”
Still, President Nelson said he will embark on another ministry tour soon.
“We will get around, but we will still miss more than we will touch,” said President Nelson. “But we will try. We won’t give up just because it is a big job.”