RIO DE JANEIRO — Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles led national media on tours of the new Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple on Monday as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prepares to welcome tens of thousands to a public open house.

A temple in Rio, home of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, is another sign of the church’s expansion in Brazil, where it now has close to 1.5 million members, Elder Soares and other leaders said.

“Rio de Janeiro is an icon in Brazil, not only for Brazilians, but for the rest of the world,” said Elder Soares, who served a mission in Rio as a young man. “When people think about Brazil, they think about Rio because they see the image of Christ.”

The 98-foot statue (30 meters) looks over Rio from atop Corcovado mountain, where Christ’s arms stretch 92 feet wide (28m).

“He has his arms extended to everybody who comes to the city. And then the temple is a second witness of that love,” Elder Soares said.

In this aerial image taken with a drone, the Christ the Redeemer statue stands above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Oct. 8, 2021, one week before its 90th anniversary. | Lucas Dumphreys, Associated Press

For the first time in Brazil, the church is conducting a communications campaign with signs on billboards, buses and other places to invite people to the open house that begins Saturday and runs through April 30, except for Sundays and April 2.

On an overcast day marked by warm humid winds as the Southern Hemisphere summer begins to turn to fall, reporter Fernando David from the national Brazilian television network Rede Bandeirantes de Televisão got a personal tour of the temple from Elder Soares.

“My wife and I explained how important and sacred a temple is for us, and what happens inside of the temple,” Elder Soares said. “The most important thing that I shared with them is that it is the house of the Lord, and it’s a place that we learn more about God and his son, Jesus Christ, and the plan they have for us in this life.”

The reporter specifically noticed the emphasis on bringing families together and the peace of the Celestial Room, Elder Soares said.

“I felt that the importance we give to the families touched his heart,” he said.

When Elder Soares and Sister Soares, who are from São Paulo, served their missions in Rio before they were married, the church had two stakes in the city. Now there are 15. A stake generally is comprised of five to 12 congregations.

Elder Ulisses Soares and Sister Rosana Soares talk with a national TV reporter after a tour of the Rio de Janeiro Temple.
Elder Ulisses Soares, left, and Sister Rosana Soares talk with Fernando David, a reporter for the national Brazilian television network Rede Bandeirantes de Televisão after giving him a tour of the new Rio de Janeiro temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, March 21, 2022, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. | Tad Walch, Deseret News

“Coming back here after so many years, after what we saw as missionaries during those days, to see how the church has grown, how the gospel has been established, how people have matured in their commitments to live the gospel, it’s something astonishing,” Elder Soares said. “It’s a real blessing to see how the gospel is making a difference in the lives of our people. Their decision to accept the gospel, to adopt the principles and to live by them transformed their lives. We are seeing second, third and fourth generations of members of the church.”

The church has grown all across Brazil, which now has 281 stakes and 36 missions.

The seven operating temples in Brazil are in São Paulo, Recife, Porto Alegre, Manaus, Fortaleza, Curitiba and Campinas. The Rio de Janeiro temple will be dedicated May 8 by Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

When it is dedicated and operating, Brazil will be in a short-term tie with Canada with eight operating Latter-day Saint temples, third-most behind the United States and Mexico. The church has announced six more temples for Brazil, with three already under construction.

The president of the church’s Brazil Area said the Rio temple “is a fulfillment of a prophetic vision and priority to bless members.”

“President Nelson’s vision as a prophet is to bring temples closer to the people,” said Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella, a General Authority Seventy. “It’s a prophetic vision coming to pass all over the world, and it’s reached Rio.”

The six planned temples include one in the capital city of Brasília and a second temple in São Paulo, the largest city in the Americas.

The other four are in Belém, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Vitória.

An exterior view of the new Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, March 21, 2022.
An exterior view of the new Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, March 21, 2022. The public open house begins Saturday, March 26, and runs through April 24. The temple will be dedicated on May 8. | Tad Walch, Deseret News

“Brazil is a country with a large geography,” Elder Soares said. “For people to move from one side to another takes days. It’s not a matter of hours but takes days.”

The Rio de Janeiro Temple will reduce the average distance for members to a temple from eight hours by car to four hours, Elder Parella said.

“I think the love of our Heavenly Father is expressed through this marvelous announcement of having new temples,” Elder Soares said, “and second, it shows how the foundation of the gospel in this country is becoming more and more firm and more strong among our people.”

The temple in Rio de Janeiro has special meaning in Brazil.

“Rio is Brazil,” said Sister Elaine Finholdt Parella. “The Christ the Redeemer statue. The beaches. The friendly, smiling, happy people. The vivid colors.”

Rio is the sixth-largest city in the Americas. The Copacabana and Ipanema beaches on the Atlantic Ocean are world-famous. The city also drew recent international attention for hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

A painting of Jesus Christ is shown in the cultural hall of a meetinghouse on the grounds of the Rio de Janeiro Temple.
A painting of Jesus Christ hangs in the cultural hall of a meetinghouse on the grounds of the Rio de Janeiro temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during media tours of the new temple on Monday, March 21, 2022. | Tad Walch, Deseret News

The Rio de Janeiro temple actually was completed two years ago, but the church postponed the public open house in 2020, five days before it was to start, due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Elder Soares told church leaders in Rio on Saturday that the delay gave members more time to prepare.

“I think that was a beautiful experience, even though we were away from the temple,” he said Monday. “The temple had this delay on the dedication, but I think it brought us the opportunity to strengthen our faith a little bit more and be better prepared to receive the ordinances.”

Elder Parella noticed a deep gratitude for the temple’s opening among church members in Rio during weekend meetings with Elder Soares.

“This was the first time I was in meetings where a member of the Quorum of the Twelve shook hands after meetings with members and almost every member said thank you to the member of the Twelve,” he said. “I think a temple in Rio has also to do with the the gratitude of the members, their understanding of how important the temple is and their resilience and capacity and faith to wait this long to have a temple.”

The temple sits on 9.44 acres on the Avenida das Américas in western Rio’s relatively new, upscale Barra da Tijuca neighborhood. The 2016 Summer Olympics golf venue is nearby and the Atlantic Ocean is about a mile to the south.

The temple’s design, including the arches and carved stone around the windows, is intended to fit in with the area’s art deco influence.

The exterior is covered in “Branco Ceará” granite quarried in northeastern Brazil. Brazil’s whitest and most uniform granite, it also covers several other temples in South America.

The temple is surrounded by 129 palm trees.

Inside, the temple is decorated with native Brazilian Jequitibá hardwoods and artwork on the walls is a combination of well-known Latter-day Saint pieces and some original paintings. The original images have not been released publicly, but included scriptural themes and native landscape scenes from Brazil. Several portray native South American peoples.

The temple’s walls and corridors are adorned with familiar Latter-day Saint artwork along with original pieces with scriptural themes and native landscape scenes from Brazil.

The Rio temple will served 45,000 church members in the region.

The night before the temple is dedicated on May 7, Latter-day Saint youth will attend a devotional in the meetinghouse on the grounds.

Latter-day Saint temples differ from meetinghouses for Sunday worship services. A temple is considered a house of the Lord where members learn more about Jesus Christ and make covenants or promises in sacred ceremonies such as marriages to follow him. They also do temple work to unite families together forever, including proxy baptisms for deceased ancestors who did not have the opportunity to be baptized while living.

The story will be updated.