“The Saints in Spain,” Ensign, Apr. 1975, 7
From the Apostle Paul’s brief promise to visit the saints in Rome on his way “into Spain” (Rom. 15:24), there is a gap of some 1900 years until records again speak of missionary labors having to do with the true Church on Spanish soil. Nevertheless, through these years Spain continued to play her role in the Lord’s purposes. From a Spanish port Columbus, “a man among the gentiles” (1 Ne. 13:12), sailed to discover the choice new world of the Americas and the remnant of a singular people; from Spain adventuring conquistadores such as Cortez and Pizarro searched out new lands and their treasures, “smiting” and “scattering” the chosen seed in their path. (See 1 Ne. 13:14.) And from Spain came the language, law, culture, and blood that united with the remnant of Jacob to produce the existing people.
Although it was involved with other lands and peoples down through the centuries to the modern day, Spain herself remained a land apart, untouched by Protestantism or Restoration. A bulwark of traditional faith, the Catholic Church in Spain has been a source and symbol of patriotic strength from the Moslem invasion through inquisition, monarchy, and revolution. Thus June 28, 1967, was a momentous day—the Spanish Cortes (parliament) enacted the historic “Religious Liberty Law” permitting the recognition of new religions in that nation. The opportunity had dawned for the restored gospel to be preached to the Spanish people.
A year later, after petition by Church authorities, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was granted official recognition by the Spanish Minister of Justice on October 22, 1968. Groundwork towards this important step had been laid through Latter-day Saint servicemen’s group meetings of the Madrid Servicemen’s Branch. An outgrowth of the converts from this branch, the dependent Madrid Spanish Branch was organized in January, 1969. Indeed, Torrejon Air Base, near Madrid, was the first point of contact with the Church for many Spaniards.
On May 19, 1969, seven months after Church recognition had been obtained, in a wooded area of Madrid known as Casa de Campo Elder Marion G. Romney dedicated the land of Spain to the preaching of the gospel. A month later the first four full-time missionaries arrived and began laboring under the jurisdiction of the French Mission. In July, 1970, President R. Raymond Barnes was called to lead the new Spain Mission (now Spain Madrid Mission), and, with a handful of missionaries, faced the enormous challenge of opening up cities and new areas to the gospel. All of these first missionaries, in a land of millions, were literally led by the Spirit in searching out those few who would accept the truth.
Glorio Cejudo of Sevilla had been active in her own church; but overwhelmed by the burden of raising a family alone and disenchanted by manifold injustices, she began to lose faith. From the depths of her despair she cried out, “Oh, God, show me if you exist!” Two young elders had knocked at every door on the Cejudo’s street during that November of 1969, but later, while crossing through the area, they felt impressed to knock on just one door. Gloria Cejudo’s heartfelt plea had been answered. She was the second person baptized in Sevilla, and served as Relief Society president almost from that time.
In November, 1972, as President Barnes was driving to Alicante on Spain’s eastern coast, he stopped in the small hill town of Alcoy and felt impressed to assign missionaries to labor there. In the first area contacted, the elders knocked on the door of the Enrique Perez home. The Perezes had felt for some time the importance of the family unit. They were looking for something that would guide them in raising their three small children.
Curious as to why two young Americans would be found in such a small town as theirs, they accepted an invitation to attend services in the lobby of an old hotel and soon realized they were being offered “something of great importance.” When he had difficulty accepting a certain principle, Brother Perez was advised: “Just live like a Mormon and you will gain a testimony of its veracity.” He and his wife were baptized in 1972, the first family in the Alicante-Alcoy region. Through his enthusiasm, other members of the family have accepted, including his 81-year-old grandmother.
In the Madrid area, Brother Jose M. Oliveira was an early convert from the year 1967. He was president of the Madrid Branch when the Church sought government recognition and was present at the dedicatory services to hear the words of Elder Romney’s petition: “Bless the native people, that they may be leaders of their own people, that Zion may grow and increase in this land.” Brother Oliveira was the first locally ordained elder in Spain, the first local missionary, the first branch president, and is now a counselor in the mission presidency. He also teaches the investigator class in his branch. His wife, Patricia, stands by his side in Church activity and serves as mission Relief Society president.
During the critical beginning years, through the Lord’s logistics, many American Mormons were transferred to Madrid for business or military reasons, and they, too, gave their experience and support to the work.
Strong examples are Bill and Yolanda Fotheringham. Brother Fotheringham was sent to Spain in 1968 as general manager of Kodak, and has served in many branch, district, and mission leadership positions. He is currently president of the new Madrid District. Sister Fotheringham, as the mission director for Young Women, has spearheaded four youth conferences, which have grown each year in size and vitality.
Surprisingly enough, as missionaries moved out into other key Spanish cities, they met Church members who had been converted in faraway lands. For example, Matilda Regueiro and her children were baptized in Santiago, Chile, in 1967. When they moved to the Spanish port city of Málaga some three years later, she was unaware that missionaries were laboring there. One day she saw two unmistakably dressed young men enter a building, and, upon inquiry, found Latter-day Saint meetings were being held there for investigators.
She and her daughter, Edelweiss, became the first members of the Church in Málaga, and their strength and testimony helped to establish the branch there. Today Sister Regueiro is in the presidency of the Relief Society and Edelweiss, now 18, is Junior Sunday School coordinator.
Rafael Alvarez, originally from Sevilla, was baptized in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1960. He relates that as he investigated he prayed and attended meetings but seemed to gain no testimony of the truth. Then he realized that he was not fully living the Word of Wisdom and “was not worthy to be a member of a church that required, above all, a purity of body and of mind.” As he sloughed off old habits, his life began to change, and he recalls that one night as he prayed for conviction, “the Holy Ghost filled my being and I received an answer.”
When the Alvarez family returned to Sevilla, missionary work had not yet begun among the Spanish people, and for some time they attended services at a nearby American base, not understanding a word of English. Nonetheless, they felt “the Spirit and love, and cherished every moment.” When missionaries reached Sevilla, Brother Alvarez was made branch president, where he has served for three years, a tower of strength among his people.
Josefina Lacuey and her daughter, Marisa, from Sabadell, a textile center in northeast Spain, were baptized in Uruguay in 1963. Marisa was 12. Returning to Sabadell five years later, she felt greatly depressed at being deprived of MIA activity. On one occasion she prayed, as she says, “as fervently as I had ever prayed in my life for the Lord to look down upon me and sustain me.”
She received the assurance that she need not worry, that the Lord was mindful of her, and she would never feel lost from the Church. Her depression left, although for six years her only contact was occasional correspondence with Church headquarters.
Then one day in September, 1970, Sister Lacuey heard a friend mention “American missionaries.” She found them, and it was in her home that the missionaries held meetings for the first five months in Sabadell. Her son, Walter, was the first baptism. Sister Lacuey is now the Sunday School secretary, and Marisa is president of the Young Women and teaches in Sunday School.
In Valencia two elders, on “impulse,” decided to leave their Saturday study and go door proselyting. At the first door they found Enrique Martos at home. He was a baker and had unusual hours. He invited them in and the family received the first lesson. The following day they attended church.
“I knew it was true the first time I walked in,” says Brother Martos. “I had sent my children to a church because I wanted them to grow up with good characters, but I didn’t believe and didn’t attend myself. I lived in dread of the day when they would be old enough to ask me why I didn’t go.” The Martos family now attends Church together in the Valencia Branch.
Another family in Valencia, the Morenos, were also door contacted by two elders. Sister Moreno’s mother was present during the first discussion and liked what she heard. For the following lesson Sister Moreno’s brother and his family, the Clementes, were also present. Both families and the mother, a total of seven persons, came into the Church the same day as the Martos family.
With Gaspar Corberan it was quite a different story. The sister missionaries had first contacted his wife and began visiting her regularly. But she, fearful that her husband would object, was reluctant to tell him about the message she was receiving. On Sundays she made excuses for not visiting relatives so that she could slip away to meetings. One Sunday he returned home early and caught her preparing for church. There were harsh words. In the misunderstandings that followed, Sister Corberan packed up her belongings, determined not to give up her new convictions.
When Gaspar saw this and because he loved his wife, he decided he should investigate this strange new doctrine; they were baptized together. Gaspar Corberan is now branch president in Valencia, with his two counselors, Brother Martos and Brother Clemente, at his side.
These are some of the pioneers, two to a city and one to a family, that humble young missionaries, in fasting and prayer, have been led to find and to baptize. Has it been hard? Is it easy to break with family tradition, a single-church tradition that reaches back into the centuries? Is it easy to give up brothers and sisters, to face ostracism, possible loss of employment, or loss of educational opportunity? Of course it has meant sacrifice, and the missionaries report that some, like the rich young ruler, have “turned away sorrowful,” unwilling to take that final step of baptism. But as one member has stated: “It could be hard. To a nonmember it might seem impossible. But when a person understands and knows that the Church is true, those other things just don’t matter.”
Manuel Sanchez of Málaga had to face losing his job in a bank. When a fellow employee had investigated the Church, the director told him that as soon as he changed religions he could expect to change jobs. Thus, when Brother Sanchez heard the missionaries, he knew the alternatives, yet he was baptized. Surprisingly, he has not lost his job, and is now first counselor in the Málaga Branch.
And does the Church change lives? Does it mean to these new Spanish members what it has meant to others? Victor Torres, president of the Madrid First Branch, divides Church work with the hours he must then spend in his “tailor shop,” a room of the family apartment. But his eyes shine as he says, “The Church is everything. The whole meaning of life has changed. The Church has given me work to do and now I would not be able to live without this work.” With wife, Lina, his seamstress, who serves as president of the branch Primary, their days are filled with devotion to the Lord’s work.
Another Madrid family, Francisco and Isabel Cantos and their seven children, might be called a “typical Mormon family.” Francisco is president of the Sunday School, his wife is a counselor in the Relief Society, and his oldest son, Paco, age 18, is president of his seminary class and directed the 1974 mission youth conference. And, of course, the younger children are involved in the Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Women and in Primary.
Juan Ventura of Barcelona learned of the Church “through correspondence” in 1949, and was baptized in France in 1952. He married and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he gained valuable priesthood and ward experience serving in the auxiliaries and as a bishop’s counselor. Returning to Spain in 1972, Juan and his family have been able to contribute their abilities to the growing Barcelona Branch where he served as branch president for a year. His daughter, Kim, was president of the MIA and Peter, his oldest son, is now the branch’s first full-time missionary, assigned to Italy.
Jaime Brossa and his wife met missionaries on the street and invited them to their home. That was October, 1970. They were baptized within a month. Brother Brossa has been president of the Sabadell Branch for the past two years and his wife is a counselor in the Relief Society. The example of this strong family, with good parents and three active children now sealed in the temple, is felt throughout their district.
Archives and Spanish genealogy should interest those of Spanish descent in the United States and Latin America, for Spain is literally a treasure house of records. Her Golden Age of exploration and colonization produced a bureaucracy of record-keepers. Immigration records to the New World, passenger lists, military service records, tax records when the crown wanted revenue, and census head-counts when it needed manpower all lie in large, mostly unindexed libraries. At one period those seeking civil or ecclesiastical appointment had to prove “purity of lineage” back four generations so that anyone of Jewish or “heretic” descent would be excluded. Thousands of these “proven genealogies” are on file today.
For the local Spanish member who can travel a few kilometers and be in his “pueblo,” genealogical research can be very rewarding. Jose Codina of the Barcelona Branch little realized 15 years ago as he studied Latin for the Catholic priesthood how significant his training would become. Brother Codina, in only eight months of research, has traced more than 12 family lines back into the 1700s. The Spanish record system is very exact, and Brother Codina found one ancestor, born in 1640, with birthdates for him, his wife, and their ten children. For another ancestor, born in 1637, the dates had been recorded for his birth, baptism, marriage, death, and burial.
In a land where the Church is new and often unknown, proselyting methods must be very ingenious, and occasionally they meet resistance. President Robert V. Stevens, president of the mission since July, 1973, has utilized a variety of advertising procedures. One was “A Family Night to Remember” program, built around a group of talented missionaries and members who performed throughout the mission. Although religious liberty exists in Spain, many Spaniards are not familiar with their rights and guarantees under the law. “A Family Night to Remember” was a proselyting breakthrough. For the first time in Spain, the restored gospel was taught through music and the spoken word in public buildings; the general public was invited. This has given the members courage to share the gospel message with their friends and neighbors.
Branch expositions are held, and street boards are used to some success. Street proselyting in Spain is not easy, and fines are often imposed. Overnight detention by civil authorities has occurred when the Religious Liberty Law is given “local interpretation.”
One major difficulty in the mission is the lack of adequate meeting facilities. In all of Spain there is not a single “Mormon chapel,” constructed as such. The Madrid District, with over 250 Spanish members, three flourishing Spanish branches, and an American branch, is now in the process of moving into larger quarters in an apartment building. But in many areas members meet in a piso or apartment, or perhaps the whole floor of an apartment building. There are no cultural halls, stage facilities, or basketball courts. Yet Spanish members cling to each other as would members of a large family, sharing holidays by going on excursions together and extending after-service socializing long hours beyond the regular meeting time. To those who have sacrificed family upon baptism, the Church members have become their new family.
After five years as a separate mission, numbers are still few. As of June 30, 1974, there were 691 Spanish members in Spain with 17 branches. There are also some 300 American members living on different military bases. Many areas of Spain have not yet been penetrated by missionaries. Many cities cannot be effectively opened with present restrictions. But the work grows. And if it grows slowly, for these pioneer members, the first members of their families and first of their nation, aware of their responsibility to be a light and grateful that the Lord touched them, the words spoken to those of another Zion are particularly apt:
“For this cause I have sent you … that you might be honored in laying the foundation.” (D&C 58:6–7.)