The news announced over the weekend delighted members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the southern half of South America.
For the first time, millions of people in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay will have the opportunity to view the Sunday morning session of April general conference on Easter Sunday through local and cable television, as well as listen by radio.
Pressed by COVID-19, the church has more than tripled the number of countries with broadcast partners carrying the conference over the past year, potentially making this weekend’s conference audience the largest in church history.
“I could not be more happy. This news fills me with joy,” Claudia Correa Frucella said in a Facebook message to the Deseret News from her home in Rosario, Argentina. “We feel grateful for this great blessing to be able to listen to our beloved prophet and church leaders from our homes, especially in this year where the coronavirus has modified many of our lives.”
Frucella and her family are accustomed to trying to watch conference online with a poor internet connection and reading the talks after they are published and distributed months later.
Many American Latter-day Saints don’t realize that some of their counterparts in other countries cannot readily watch or listen online as revered church leaders considered to be prophets and apostles deliver 10 hours of messages and counsel in general conferences held every six months. Many had watched conference sessions by satellite in meetinghouses. When COVID-19 closed those buildings a year ago, church leadership sought new ways to help them watch.
Finding new broadcast partners in dozens of countries proved to be the answer.
In Canelones, Uruguay, about a 30-minute drive from the capital city of Montevideo, Gonzalo Juárez, his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Leticia, were ecstatic to hear broadcast partners had agreed to carry conference in their area.
“This is great news,” Juárez said. “What a great blessing for me and my family.”
It’s not just happening in South America. At least one session of the 191st Annual General Conference, April 3-4, will be broadcast on television and radio stations in more than 70 counties, many for the first time, according to a church statement.
“Although COVID-19 continues to prevent large in-person gatherings, more people than ever are tuning in to general conference thanks to technology,” the statement said.
As part of the announcement in South America, Elder Allen D. Haynie, a General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the South America South Area, said he never imagined having such an opportunity to view general conference in that part of the world, but is grateful that it is happening.
“We should all seize this wonderful opportunity to see and hear prophets, seers and revelators as they testify of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, and invite our family and friends to do the same,” he said in a statement. “What a blessing!”
The effort by the church to expand conference viewership and share Christ-centered messages has been ongoing for a long time.
The first general conference took place on June 9, 1830, with 27 members present. General conference was broadcast for the first time by radio in 1923; by television in 1949; by satellite in 1975; and available via the internet in 1999.
For the first time in April 2020, television and radio stations in Jamaica, the Philippines, New Zealand, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo carried the conference.
“We had (TV or radio broadcasts in) 31 countries in April (2020) and anticipate around 50 countries in for this conference,” Caso said in October 2020. “The church is using technology and media outreach globally to offer more viewing and listening options than ever before, ensuring the largest global general conference audience to date.”
Edwin Tabe, who lives with his wife, four children and a niece in Uyo City, Nigeria, were able to watch conference from home in April 2020. Before that they viewed conference at a local meetinghouse, “which was good but accompanied by distractions,” he said.
With the help of a power generator, the Tabe family dressed in their Sunday best, prepared food and took notes from each speaker as they watched the conference. Watching and hearing the church leaders speak in real time not only brought peaceful feelings into the Tabe home, but made a strong impression on the children.
“It changed the thinking of my children,” Tabe wrote in an email to the Deseret News. “It was as if we were in the presence of the prophet.”
The family looks forward to this weekend’s conference because it will be broadcast on a more stable channel.
“This viewing this time is going to be better, which shows care for the Saints in Nigeria,” he wrote.
Last October, at least one — and often more — conference sessions were distributed by 200 public broadcasting channels via national or regional television and radio, reaching people in 50 countries in the regions of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, the Pacific and South America.
Latter-day Saints from 13 countries across the Pacific tuned in to the October 2020 conference, including members from the island nation of Kiribati for the first time, enabling them to hear President Russell M. Nelson announce a temple would be built in their country.
“We all shouted with joy while listening to the announcement,” Fatele Fetapo said in the church article. “On Sunday we were able to listen on the radio in our own language. And that is another blessing to us, especially for our brothers and sisters who lived on the outer islands.”
While the channel, “La Red” may not have the largest reach in Santiago, Chile, many outside the faith will undoubtedly see it, said Cristhian Tomaduz, a local Latter-day Saint.
“This will be cool because it will reach more people outside the church,” Tomaduz said. “It’s pretty exciting, it’s unique. I’ve never watched it like this on local television.”
Carlos Correa, a member living in Argentina, couldn’t find the cable channel “Telemax,” but hopes a ratings’ boost will result in getting a more prominent channel in the future. He plans to at least listen by radio and described the development as “amazing.”
“Except in large cities where internet bandwidth is great, members in other places can see only it on their cellphones or computer, but in parts because the signal is cut off and sometimes the same thing happens in the chapel,” Correa said. “The fact that it is broadcast on television means that it will reach all people equally, that there will be no interruptions, that the audience can be measured and even those nonmembers, who are casually watching, can see and get closer to the Savior.”
David Medico, who serves a bishop in Mendoza, Argentina, believes having general conference more accessible will bless many in his congregation and community.
“It is a great opportunity and blessing for our neighborhood and families. There are many brothers and sisters who do not yet have the technology to watch online and this makes it much easier,” Medico said. “Lately, with families burdened by all kinds of problems, we need guidance from our prophet and leaders. This is a great opportunity for many to find answers and peace, especially for our youth, who are being tested.”