SALT LAKE CITY — President Russell M. Nelson memorably ended the first day of an international 190th Annual General Conference reshaped by a global coronavirus pandemic by calling for a worldwide fast on Good Friday.
“Let us unite in pleading for healing throughout the world,” he said. “Good Friday would be the perfect day to have our Heavenly Father and his Son hear us.”
President Nelson also introduced a new official symbol of the church. The symbol consists of an image of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s marble Christus statue standing in an arch over a cornerstone bearing the name of the church.
“This symbol will now be used as a visual identifier for official literature, news and events of the church,” he said. “It will remind all that this is the Savior’s church and that all we do, as members of his church, centers on Jesus Christ and his gospel.”
President Nelson noted that Sunday, the final day of the conference, is Palm Sunday, the start of the week that included Christ’s suffering and death and culminated with his resurrection on Easter.
“As followers of Jesus Christ, living in a day when the COVID-19 pandemic has put the world in commotion, let us not talk of Christ or preach of Christ or employ a symbol representing Christ,” he said. “Let us put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ into action.”
He said it is natural for believers to call on Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ “during times of deep distress, as when illness reaches pandemic proportions.”
“I am calling for another worldwide fast,” he said, adding, “Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic. I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened and life normalized.”
Four speakers during the Saturday evening session spoke about the authority, restoration of, power and use of the priesthood and how it blesses young women, young men and women.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and Sister Jean B. Bingham, the Relief Society general president, spoke about the priesthood and men and women.
“Priesthood is not those who have been ordained to a priesthood office or those who exercise its authority,” President Oaks said. “Men who hold the priesthood are not the priesthood. While we should not refer to ordained men as the priesthood, it is appropriate to refer to them as holders of the priesthood.”
Men and women both officiate in priesthood ordinances under the keys and direction of a priesthood holder.
“Though women do not hold an office in the priesthood,” he said, “they perform sacred temple ordinances under the authorization of the president of the temple, who holds the keys for the ordinances of the temple.”
He gave additional examples. Women and men exercise priesthood authority in missionary callings and leadership positions in Latter-day Saint congregations when set apart by priesthood leaders.
When a father is absent, a mother is the family leader and presides in her home. She “is instrumental in bringing the power and blessings of the priesthood into her family through her endowment and sealing in the temple,” President Oaks said. “While she is not authorized to give the priesthood blessings that can only be given by a person holding a certain office in the priesthood, she can perform all of the other functions of family leadership. In doing so she exercises the power of the priesthood for the benefit of the children over whom she presides in her position of leadership in the family.”
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about how God goes before his children. He focused on the 1836 visits of ancient prophets to the Kirtland Ohio Temple.
“Now, I had read that account many times. The Holy Ghost had confirmed to me that the account was true,” he said. “But as I studied and prayed to prepare for this conference, I came to see more clearly the power of the Lord to lead in detail his disciples in his work.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began the Saturday evening session of the 190th Annual General Conference by pointing directly toward Sunday morning’s collective Hosanna Shout.
“With hosanna and hallelujah, we celebrate the living Jesus Christ at this season of continuing Restoration and Easter,” he said. “... In both, we rejoice in the return of Jesus Christ. He lives, not only then, but now; not just for some, but for all. He came and comes to heal the brokenhearted, deliver the captives, recover sight to the blind, and set at liberty those who are bruised.
“That’s each of us. His redeeming promises apply, no matter our past, our present, our concerns for our future.”
He said the church is also celebrating restoration and resurrection, especially with Palm Sunday tomorrow and Easter next Sunday.
“The sacred events between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are the story of hosanna and hallelujah,” Elder Gong said. “Hosanna is our plea for God to save. Hallelujah expresses our praise to the Lord for the hope of salvation and exaltation. In hosanna and hallelujah, we recognize the living Jesus Christ as the heart of Easter and latter-day restoration.”
He said the church is a vessel for the blessings of Christ’s gospel to reach the world today.
“Light and revelation continue to come forth through the Lord’s living prophet and his church called in his name — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and through personal revelation and inspiration by the supernal gift of the Holy Ghost,” Elder Gong said.
He quoted President Nelson saying, “Jesus Christ came to pay a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.”
Sister Bingham, the Relief Society general president, spoke about the need for men and women, husbands and wives, to work unitedly in accomplishing God’s work.
“Are we ready?” she asked. “Will we strive to overcome cultural bias and instead embrace divine patterns and practices based on foundational doctrine?”
She added that, “One of the keys is to understand that when women and men work together we accomplish a great deal more than we do working separately. Our roles are complementary rather than competitive. Although women are not ordained to a priesthood office, as noted previously, women are blessed with priesthood power as they keep their covenants and they operate with priesthood authority when they are set apart to a calling.”
In a surprising development, two teenagers spoke during the session.
Sister Laudy R. Kaouk, 17, a young woman from the Spanish-speaking Slate Canyon 14th Ward in the Provo Utah Stake, spoke in English about how priesthood blesses youth.
“Don’t hesitate to ask for a blessing when you need extra guidance,” she said. “It is in our difficult moments that we need the Spirit to help us the most. No one is perfect and we all experience hardships. Some of us might suffer with anxiety, depression, addiction or with feelings that we are not enough. Priesthood blessings can help us overcome these challenges and receive peace as we move forward into the future.”
Kaouk also said that temple attendance and patriarchal blessings have helped her connect with her Heavenly Father.
Brother Enzo S. Petelo, 15, a priest from the Meadow Wood Ward of the Provo Utah Edgemont Stake, said it can be hard for youths dedicated to following Christ to do so with exactness.
Serving in and with the priesthood can unite youths, help strengthen them and place them “in joint service with John the Baptist, Moroni, Joseph Smith, President Nelson and other diligent servants of the Lord,” said Petelo.
“You can be a beacon of light to all those who are unsure of themselves,” Petelo added. “The light within you will shine so bright that everyone you interact with will be blessed by just being in your company.”
The last time a youth spoke in conference was April 1997, when three young women spoke during the women’s session — Kristin Banner, Fono Lavatai and Alejandra Hernández. In April 1983, Elder Matthew S. Holland, called earlier Saturday as a new General Authority Seventy, gave a talk in the priesthood session as a 17-year-old titled, “Muddy Feet and White Shirts.”
Some of the music for this conference was prerecorded in March by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square after its weekly broadcasts of “Music & the Spoken Word.” Other hymns are previous recordings of the choir.
The hymns for this session included “Lead, Kindly Light.”
The opening prayer was provided by Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy. The closing prayer was given by Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency.
Earlier today, the church released a statistical report that showed church membership has grown to 16,565,036.
It also announced nine new General Authority Seventies, a new Young Men general presidency and 57 new area seventies.