“‘Small Means,’ Thousands of Miles Away, Help the Church in Spain,” Ensign, Feb. 1979, 76–77
When Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Spain in August 1978, news media and politicians took notice.
Elder Hinckley was met at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport by 500 members of the Church. As he spoke to them in the airport, television crews from Spain’s two stations recorded the event—and as a result, an estimated 22.5 million viewers shared the experience.
Later, Elder Hinckley met with the king of Spain, Juan Carlos. He also met with the cabinet minister in charge of Spain’s Health, Education, and Welfare, Senor Enrique Sanchez, and with the mayor of Madrid, Jose Luis Alvarez.
It was not the first time that journalists and political figures in Spain took active notice of the Church. However, it did represent a dramatic change in attitudes toward the Church in a country that is mostly Catholic and that only in recent years legalized religious liberty.
The Church has been in Spain since 1969, when a religious liberty law was passed. Discrimination that remained after the passage of the law is being eliminated by a new constitution, now being completed by the Spanish parliament.
The original Spain Mission was divided on 1 July 1976; now there are three Spanish missions—in Barcelona, in Seville, and in Madrid. Church growth has brought positive recognition for the Church, some of it the result of events thousands of miles away.
A key has been positive firsthand experiences of Spanish citizens with Church members in the United States.
The Spanish newspaper ABC had never published information about the Church until recently. Then one day Ashby D. Boyle, the Church’s national director of public communications in Spain, was at the newspaper office to deliver a news release. A Catholic priest, a correspondent for the paper, noticed Brother Boyle’s North American accent and asked where he was from. “I told him I was from Salt Lake City, and he reacted warmly, saying he had once stayed with a Mormon family there,” Brother Boyle says. After the priest learned that Brother Boyle was a Mormon, he took the press release; the next day, it was published in the newspaper. Now, news of the Church is frequently printed in the paper.
“The effect of the quality of the lives of that Salt Lake City family has been felt several thousand miles away,” says Brother Boyle. “Unknowingly, they have made an important contribution to the growth of the kingdom in a distant vineyard.”
ABC, however, is not the only newspaper willing to publish stories about the Church. El Pais, one of the most influential newspapers in Europe, published a derogatory story about the Church in March 1978. When Brother Boyle inquired about the origin of the story, the editors of the section said they had purchased it from a newspaper in London, England, and they had intended no harm.
A reporter for the newspaper (who had not seen the story before its publication) offered to “undo the damage” by writing a more fair article himself. He had been impressed with the way members of the Church treated him during a visit to Utah. “He knew from his own experience that Mormons were friendly and basically good,” says Brother Boyle. “He felt badly about us having been portrayed as the opposite, and his story was published recently.”
The positive contact with members of the Church was not limited to visits to Utah, ( ) however. In fact, a man impressed with a Mormon family in Louisiana was instrumental in arranging Elder Hinckley’s visit with King Juan Carlos.
More than twenty years ago, the U.S. State Department arranged a tour for several promising young Spanish journalists. One of these, Jesus de la Serna, son of an important Spanish family, stayed with a Latter-day Saint family in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“It was a hard time in his life, as his father—an important Spanish philosopher and politician—had just died. Mr. Serna arrived in the U.S. dressed completely in black, which was a traditional Spanish way of mourning,” Brother Boyle says.
The head of the family hosting him was a graveyard caretaker. The family lived in a cottage at the edge of the graveyard. The family’s compassion dissolved any uneasiness Mr. Serna felt about staying so near a cemetery. In fact, the family and their visitor discussed life and death together, and prayed together.
More than ten years later, when Mr. Serna was the publisher of Informaciones, an important national daily publication, he had not forgotten his Latter-day Saint friends in New Orleans. When the Church’s chapel in Madrid was dedicated in 1977, Informaciones featured the story on its front page—a rare occurrence in Europe.
“This impression was sufficiently strong that Mr. Serna would talk to his brother, Victor, of the great charity and Christian goodness he had seen in Mormon people,” Brother Boyle says. Victor de la Serna is a senator of the king. When difficulties arose in arranging a visit between Elder Hinckley and the king, Victor de la Serna offered to help. “The result is now history,” Brother Boyle says.
After Elder Hinckley’s visit with the king, the king gave a full report on the visit to his minister of religious affairs, who told Church officials that the king sincerely desires to help the churches in Spain.
Queen Sophia of Spain noticed Victor de la Serna’s enthusiasm for the Church and asked him, “Could it be that you are a Mormon?” He wrote Brother Boyle of his response:
“I answered her that no, I am not a Mormon; but yes, I do have a great deal of respect and sympathy for their people.
“I said that it was very impressive that they would come to Spain with such unselfishness to Christianize a people that so often today seem to have forgotten the message of Christianity.”
“Perhaps the moral of these experiences,” Brother Boyle concludes, “is that the success of our relations with others depends on the quality of the lives of our members.”