“Madrid, Spain: Just the Beginning,” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 78–79
“When the missionaries knocked on our door on 29 January 1973, our family was preparing to celebrate my mother’s birthday,” recalls Enrique Cantos, who was ten years old at the time. “We thought we had something to share with these strangers, so we invited them in. Little did we know what they had to share with us.”
Enrique and his family joined the Church at a time when Spain had relatively few Latter-day Saints. “The Church, like my family, has come a long way since those early days,” he says. “It is still a challenge to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Spain, but because we have something special to share, the Church will continue to grow. Our perseverance is beginning to produce great things.” Today President Cantos presides over the Madrid Sixth Branch of the Madrid Spain Stake, and his wife, Alicia, is a counselor in the Madrid stake Relief Society presidency.
The Church was first introduced to Spain after World War II by U.S. servicemen stationed in Madrid, the robust capital and geographical center of the country. One of the first Spanish converts, José María Oliveira, was baptized in 1966. After a religious-liberty law was passed in 1967, native Spaniards began to join the Church in increasing numbers. Despite some opposition and centuries-old religious and cultural traditions, growth progressed enough that by 1982 Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was assigned to form a stake in Madrid. Today, Spain has nearly thirty thousand members, four stakes, seventeen wards, five missions, nineteen districts, and 128 branches. In hopes that Madrid will grow from one stake to three stakes by the time the newly announced Madrid Spain Temple is completed, stake leaders have set a goal of five thousand baptisms within the next four years.
“I have good reason to be so involved in missionary work,” says Madrid stake missionary José Javier Madorrán. “The gospel saved my life!” As a young man, Javier studied in a monastery to become a priest, but before he committed himself to the ministry he felt the need to earn some money to help his financially troubled parents. In 1982 he found a job at a hotel in northern Spain. When the hotel was destroyed by a terrorist bomb, Javier was severely injured and spent the next several years partially paralyzed from the waist down. “That was the darkest season of my life,” he says.
One day during his long recuperation, missionaries came to Javier’s door.”I was particularly sick that day, and I really had no interest in their message,” he recalls. Concerned by Javier’s obviously poor health, the missionaries informed a doctor. When the missionaries stopped by again, Javier told them he had a severe liver infection that had also damaged other internal organs. The doctors said he had only a few months left to live.
The missionaries offered to give him a priesthood blessing. “From somewhere deep inside my soul I cried out for the spirit these two young men brought into my room,” Javier recalls. “They gave me a blessing at eight o’clock and then left. By ten I began to feel a power enter my body. Within thirty minutes I was able to stand up on my own. Then I became strong enough to walk, something I had given up hopes of ever doing.” Fully healed, Javier was baptized soon after.
Soledad García joined the Church with her family after meeting missionaries in 1982, but she later became less active. “I had a problem with the idea of paying tithing,” she recalls. Over the years she watched as blessings came into the lives of her husband, Feliciano, and three children—blessings she knew deep down were a result of their efforts to live the gospel. Even when the family went through lean times, Brother García diligently paid tithing. “My husband’s steadfastness converted me,” says Sister García. “I have a strong testimony of tithing now. I don’t know what we would have done without the gospel during those years.”
The García family was sealed in the Swiss Temple, and all three children have served missions. Reflecting on the temple marriages of his two oldest children and on his two grandchildren, Brother García smiles and quietly observes, “The third generation of Garcías is in the Church. Everything of value requires a sacrifice. It is always worth the wait.”
The same could be said of the Church in Madrid. “Really, we are at the beginning of the Church’s great future here,” says Javier Madorrán.