“President Hinckley Visits South America, Florida, Washington, D.C.” Ensign, Feb. 1997, 73–76
During a 12-day trip in November 1996 to six countries in South America and to Florida in the United States, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited 10 cities, addressed an estimated 218,000 Latter-day Saints in more than 20 meetings, spoke to more than 4,000 full-time missionaries serving in 22 missions, met with government and media representatives, visited the construction site of the Bogotá Colombia Temple, and broke ground for the Cochabamba Bolivia and Recife Brazil Temples. President Hinckley was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Marjorie, and by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, both of whom spoke at most gatherings.
Temple Excitement in Colombia
The President’s first destination was Bogotá, Colombia, where he toured the temple construction site, spoke to missionaries, and addressed some 7,000 Colombian members in a covered coliseum. These occasions marked the first time in 19 years that a Church President had visited Colombia. While in Bogotá President Hinckley and Elder Scott were joined by the counselors of the South America North Area Presidency: Elder Francisco J. Viñas of the Seventy and Elder Carl B. Pratt, an Area Authority.
In his conference address, President Hinckley spoke about the new Colombian temple: “I felt very encouraged to see the construction. You have waited a long time. It has been eight years since I set foot on this ground, and there have been many problems since then. Now the construction is going forward, and in less than two years it will be finished. … If the men and women of this congregation will commit themselves to work to be worthy of having recommends, their lives will be blessed, their homes will be blessed, and they will feel the Spirit of the Lord.”
President Hinckley also talked about “the reasons the Lord has given for restoring His gospel in this dispensation.” Referring to D&C 1:20–23, he highlighted four reasons: “that every man might speak in the name of God,” “that faith also might increase in the earth,” “that mine everlasting covenant might be established,” and “that the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”
“God’s Holy Work” in Peru
President Hinckley next visited Lima, Peru, where he met with missionaries and held two conferences attended by a total of 28,000 Latter-day Saints. Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy, president of the South America North Area, joined President Hinckley and Elder Scott in Lima.
President Hinckley’s remarks again touched on the theme of temples: “If we are a temple-going people, we will be better fathers and husbands, better wives and mothers. I know that your lives are busy, that you have much to do, but I make you a promise that if you will go to the house of the Lord, you will be blessed.”
President Hinckley recognized the Book of Mormon heritage of his listeners in Lima: “As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi, whose sons and daughters you are. I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude. … This is but the beginning of the work in Peru. This work of the Almighty will go on and grow and grow. It is God’s holy work. Let us live the gospel. Let us follow its divine truth. There is nothing you cannot do with the help of the Almighty.”
A Groundbreaking in Bolivia
“I told myself it was going to be hot, so I decided not to bring my raincoat,” President Hinckley confessed to missionaries gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia. “Now we’re having the heaviest rainstorm Cochabamba has had in 10 years.”
But the temple groundbreaking did go forward early that evening, although with an abbreviated program. “My beloved and wet brothers and sisters,” President Hinckley said at the beginning of his address to some 4,000 Bolivian Latter-day Saints gathered under umbrellas and pieces of plastic. He shared a letter from a young woman who as a little girl attended the groundbreaking for the Guatemala City Temple. She told of visiting the temple every Saturday with her father during construction. When she attended the temple dedication, she made a decision to be married in that temple. Years later she met her husband-to-be, and sure enough they were married in the Guatemala City Temple.
“I want to challenge each of you here today to get a temple recommend now, to be worthy of a temple recommend,” President Hinckley said. “You will not be able to attend the new temple for two years, but let that recommend be a reminder of what is waiting for you at the temple.”
In his prayer for the groundbreaking, President Hinckley said: “We know that these rains bring great blessings to the people of Cochabamba, and we are grateful for them. … We ask thee to bless this building that its construction may proceed without any problem or difficulty. We thank thee for this beautiful site, where this sacred edifice will be erected for the people of this great land and where it will remain as a remembrance of the testimonies that we have in our hearts that life is eternal and everlasting.”
“Now Is the Time” in Chile
More than 300 buses were among the means used by 48,000 Chilean members—15,000 more than expected—who came to a stadium in Santiago to hear President Hinckley. He spoke in two conference sessions, one for members of stakes and districts in northern Chile and a second session for members of stakes and districts in southern Chile. He and Elder Scott were joined in Santiago by the members of the Chile Area Presidency: Elder F. Melvin Hammond of the Seventy and his counselors, Elder Jerald L. Taylor of the Seventy and Elder Eduardo A. Lamartine, an Area Authority.
While in Santiago, President Hinckley met with missionaries and participated in an interview with Santiago Pavlovic of Televisión Nacional de Chile. The interview became part of an informational program about the Church that aired on 14 November 1996. The program emphasized missionary work and the growth of the Church in Chile.
In his address, President Hinckley said: “Each of you is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That means you have taken upon yourself certain responsibilities. Now is the time, this is the hour, to make a resolution within your heart to stand a little taller as a Latter-day Saint, to live the gospel a little more fully, to honor the Lord in your life, and to do the right thing at all times and in all circumstances.”
Commenting later about President Hinckley’s visit, Elder Hammond gave an example of the sacrifice members made to attend the conference. Lacking bus fare, one family borrowed enough money to buy a sack of flour. The mother made bread and sold it in the street, earning enough money to repay her loan and pay her family’s way to Santiago and back.
An Abrazo in Argentina
Some 50,000 Latter-day Saints from Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay gathered to hear President Hinckley speak in Buenos Aires, where he and Elder Scott were joined by the brethren of the South America South Area Presidency: Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy and his counselors, Elder Carlos H. Amado of the Seventy and Elder Hugo A. Catrón, an Area Authority.
Before meeting with missionaries, President Hinckley met with Dr. José Camilo Cardoso, director of Argentina’s National Registry of Religions. President Hinckley expressed deep gratitude to Dr. Cardoso for his efforts to promote religious freedom and for the respect and support the Church enjoys in Argentina. Dr. Cardoso expressed to President Hinckley his commitment to maintaining religious equality in Argentina and commented that this is a time of interaction and brotherhood among religions.
“Once we were a very small group,” President Hinckley said in his address. “Now we are spread across the earth in 160 nations, 9.7 million strong, yet we are interested in one another as individuals. … I reach out to each of you. I would like to give every one of you an abrazo [hug], but I can’t do it; there are too many of you.”
Four Cities in Brazil
President Hinckley spent several days in Brazil visiting the cities of Pôrto Alegre, São Paulo, Recife, and Manaus. The first Church President ever to visit Pôrto Alegre, he met with missionaries and gave an evening address to some 6,000 members, many of whom watched him on closed-circuit televisions in overflow rooms. In São Paulo he spoke to a total of more than 40,000 members in two sessions, and the next morning he met with local missionaries. Later he flew north to Recife, where he spoke with more missionaries and joined about 2,500 members for the groundbreaking at the temple site, which is shaded by mango trees and towering royal palms that will remain on the site. An evening conference in Recife drew about 14,000 Latter-day Saints. His last Brazilian destination was Manaus, a large city on the Amazon River in the heart of the rain forest. His activities there included visiting with missionaries and speaking at a meeting attended by more than 5,000 members.
The brethren of the Brazil Area Presidency attended and spoke at several gatherings: Elder Dallas N. Archibald of the Seventy and his counselors, Elders W. Craig Zwick and Claudio R. M. Costa, both of the Seventy.
To the missionaries in São Paulo, President Hinckley said, “In 1933, when I served a mission, there were about as many missionaries in the whole Church as we have here today in São Paulo.” In meetings with members, the President said: “There is nothing we can do that is more important than to get into our hearts and minds and souls a conviction of Christ as the Son of God. … If you do not have this testimony, get on your knees and ask. Read the Book of Mormon. Go to sacrament meeting. There will gradually come into your hearts a conviction of Jesus, Son of the Father.”
In his remarks at the Recife temple groundbreaking, President Hinckley said: “The gospel is not complete without the ordinances of the house of the Lord. In order to complete our acceptance of Church membership, it is important that we have this holy house. We hope you will live worthy of it. We hope you will come frequently.” In his groundbreaking prayer, President Hinckley said: “May thy Holy Spirit touch the lives of all who labor here. May this prove to be a place of great beauty and of peace and of harmony, and may thy Holy Spirit hover over it and bless it as it rises from the earth up into the skies of heaven, where there will be the crowning figure of the angel Moroni.”
To the Saints at Manaus, he said: “The last time we were here [26 years ago], none of you were here. It is wonderful what has happened, and what I see today is only a shadow of what will be in the future. This hall will not be large enough to hold them, so large will grow the membership of the Church in Manaus.”
A Stop in Florida
On his way home to Salt Lake City, President Hinckley stopped in southern Florida to address about 6,000 members from several Fort Lauderdale and Miami stakes. Two sessions were held, one in English and one in Spanish, at a venue in Sunrise, Florida. President Hinckley and Elder Scott were joined by Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy, President of the North America Southeast Area.
President Hinckley called on husbands and wives to be kind and generous to each other, to avoid losing tempers with one another, and to support each other in Church callings and in the priesthood. Families should hold family prayer and family home evening, he said, and parents should rear their children in love, not in anger. He left the Florida members with the promise that if they are true and faithful, they will receive blessings and have reason to be thankful to Heavenly Father.
A “Beautiful Story” in Washington, D.C.
Less than a month after his trip to South America and Florida, President Hinckley traveled to Washington, D.C.
He spoke to an audience of 1,800 youth gathered Sunday evening, 1 December, at the Washington DC Stake center. “God put you on earth to do something worthwhile,” said President Hinckley. “He has put His mark upon you. You are His sons and daughters.”
The next day, addressing more than 500 dignitaries attending the annual Festival of Lights at the Washington Temple, President Hinckley said: “As we begin this wonderful Christmas season, I thank the Lord for Christmas, when for a brief time we put aside our baser instincts and attitudes and stand tall in kindness, love, and respect one for another. It is a miraculous thing which Christmas does for us. We change, we become different at this glad and beautiful season of the year.”
Addressing ambassadors and emissaries from 55 nations as well as numerous members of Congress, U.S. secretary of education Richard Riley, and other dignitaries, President Hinckley read the story of the Savior’s birth found in the second chapter of Luke. He remarked: “This is a timeless and beautiful story of the birth of the Son of God, He who condescended unto earth, He the Son of the Father, He the Prince of Peace who left His heavenly home to be born into mortality in a simple manger in a vassal state among a hated people. No man who ever walked the earth has touched more lives than Jesus of Nazareth.”
President Hinckley and Paulo-Tarso Flecha de Lima, Brazil’s ambassador to the U.S., together switched on 300,000 colored Christmas lights decorating the grounds of the Washington Temple Visitors’ Center. The ambassador stated, “The lights that tonight shine over our city are the sign of our faith in the Lord, the light of all men.”
Accompanied by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Vaughn J Featherstone of the Seventy, and President Ralph Hardy of the Washington DC Stake, President Hinckley earlier toured the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which honors six million Jews who died in World War II concentration camps. “It was a very sacred experience, a very humbling thing,” President Hinckley said of the visit. “It is frightening that in our generation people could so forget the Spirit of the Son of God, whose birthday we honor.”
President Hinckley also attended a luncheon with government leaders and media representatives, was interviewed by a Washington Times reporter, and met with some 1,300 ordinance workers in the Washington Temple for a Christmas devotional.
This article was prepared with the help of Javier Tobón Gónima in Colombia, José Quiroga Patiño and Victor Hugo Agramont in Bolivia, Néstor Curbelo in Chile and Argentina, Linda Ritchie Archibald in Brazil, Beth Boman in Florida, and Jocelyn Mann Denyer in Washington, D.C.