“President Hinckley Tours Mexico and Belize,” Ensign, Feb. 1998, 75–78
Closing out 1997 with an undiminished schedule of visits and speeches, President Gordon B. Hinckley met with Church members in seven cities in Mexico and Belize, rededicated the renovated baptistry in the Atlanta Georgia Temple, addressed students at Utah State University and Brigham Young University, rededicated a Mormon Battalion monument in Salt Lake City, and spoke at a sesquicentennial awards dinner in Salt Lake City.
President Hinckley began his 8–13 November trip to Mexico and Belize by speaking to a total of about 42,000 members gathered in Saturday evening and Sunday morning meetings in Mexico City’s Palacio de los Deportes, a large sports arena. He was accompanied throughout the trip by his wife, Marjorie, and by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Barbara, all of whom spoke in various meetings. Also accompanying President Hinckley at different times in Mexico were Elder Carl B. Pratt of the Seventy, Mexico South Area President, and his wife, Karen Ann, as well as the counselors in the Area Presidency, Elder Richard E. Turley Sr. of the Seventy and his wife, Jean, and Elder Octaviano Tenorio, an Area Authority Seventy, and his wife, Rosa Elva.
“We are out to turn this Church around in our attention to those whom you bring into the Church, that they will grow in faith and be worthy of the blessings that all of you have,” President Hinckley said in Mexico City. “The whole Church in Mexico is determined to help you in your great work, not only to teach and baptize but also to retain and strengthen. And to every member of the Church who is here today, I want to say this: you and I have a great responsibility to put our arms around those who are baptized into the Church and be a friend to them, to help them in their getting acquainted and to assist them in becoming strong, able members of the Church, such as you are.”
Later on Sunday, 9 November, President Hinckley traveled south to Puebla, Mexico, where he addressed about 12,000 members. Speaking to full-time missionaries seated together near the front of the congregation, the Church leader said: “Yours is only part of the process of bringing faithful members into the Church. … We are determined that we will all work together, every member of the Church, to help your converts become faithful and solid members of the Church.”
Next on President Hinckley’s itinerary was Oaxaca, Mexico, where he addressed about 4,000 members on Monday, 10 November. He was scheduled to speak to members at Tuxtla Gutiérrez later that day, but inclement weather forced the closure of the airport there. Members gathered in Tuxtla Gutiérrez were disappointed, but President Hinckley was able to send them a telephone greeting.
“What a wonderful thing is happening in Mexico, this beautiful nation of which you are a part,” said President Hinckley in Oaxaca. “For 100 years the gospel has touched the lives of the people. Once we were small and weak, just a little handful of people. We were held in suspicion. The government looked upon us with disfavor. Now all that has changed. We have status here. … What a wonderful thing has happened. You belong to a great family of Saints, 10 million members now across the world, and 800,000 of those live in Mexico. Nearly a tenth of the members of the Church reside in this land. We have become a mighty congregation.”
“I am grateful that we are here in this comfortable hall,” said President Hinckley to more than 5,000 members gathered in Villahermosa, Mexico, on Tuesday, 11 November. “We had a meeting with the governor of the state of Tabasco. It is through his kindness that we are met here now, and we wish to thank him for what he has done. This morning we had a very delightful meeting with the president of the nation of Mexico, President [Ernesto] Zedillo, at his residence, Los Pinos.”
During that visit, President Hinckley presented President Zedillo with a framed copy of the proclamation on the family and a book about the Church. “I was very impressed with Dr. Zedillo,” President Hinckley said. “He is a very able man. He was very friendly, courteous, and respectful. He knows something about the Church.”
Speaking in Villahermosa, President Hinckley said: “We have the truth of the word of God, revealed through modern prophets. There has been given to us what has been given to no other people, and where much is given much is expected. He expects us to show love of God by showing love of men. I don’t know of any other people in the entire world who teach that each of us is a son or daughter of God. What does that mean to you? It should mean that you have something of divinity within you, and if that divinity is within you you cannot stoop to do those things which are not compatible with that divinity. Never forget that each of us is a child of the living God.”
President Hinckley spoke to nearly 8,000 members gathered in the Poliforum in Mérida, Mexico, on Wednesday, 12 November. Earlier that day he visited the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá, of which he said: “I thought of the great people who lived there but who lived in such falsehood concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ in which their fathers once lived in peace. It was terrible to see what happened to them. I thought of these great words of the prophet Mormon, who saw his people go down to death by the tens of thousands, and in his loneliness and in his sadness he cried out:
“‘O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! …
“‘O that ye had repented before this great destruction had come upon you. But behold, ye are gone, and the Father, yea, the Eternal Father of heaven, knoweth your state’ [Morm. 6:17, 22].
“I thought of those words as I visited Chichén Itzá this morning and heard of the terrible human sacrifice that occurred there. Over the years thousands were killed because of the false worship of the people. I thought of Father Lehi and how he must have wept and mourned as he looked down upon his wicked children.”
While in Mérida President Hinckley was interviewed by newspaper reporters. They asked him, “How do you get along with the Catholics?” He replied, “We get along very well with the Catholics and with the Protestants and all people who are seeking to do good in the world. We do not argue with them. We do not debate with them. We do not oppose them or fight with them. We get along. We teach the positive gospel. And the first great principle of that gospel is this: ‘We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost’ [A of F 1:1].”
Belize City, Belize
On Thursday, 13 November, President Hinckley became the first Church President to visit Belize, a small nation located between Mexico and Guatemala and populated by some 215,000 people. Missionary work began there in 1980, and today Belize has about 2,000 Church members organized into 3 districts with 13 branches. President Hinckley was accompanied to Belize by Elder Julio E. Alvarado, an Area Authority Seventy who serves as a counselor in the Central America Area Presidency. An estimated 1,200 members gathered to hear the Church leader speak in a college gymnasium.
“You fathers and mothers who are here, there has come to you through the restored gospel an understanding of who your children are,” President Hinckley said. “They too are sons and daughters of God. They are His children. They are to be reared in light and truth. … The restored gospel teaches us about the relationship of husbands and wives. They walk together, not the husband ahead, not the wife behind, but as companions walking side by side.”
President Hinckley’s last visit in Mexico was to Cancún, where 2,000 members gathered in a stake center to hear him speak. “I leave my blessings upon you as well as my love and say to you again, God be with you till we meet again,” President Hinckley said. “I don’t know when that will be. But I hope you will never forget that this night you heard Gordon B. Hinckley say that he knows that God our Eternal Father lives and answers prayers and that Jesus is our Redeemer and our Savior, and this is their work in which we are engaged.”
Atlanta Temple Baptistry Rededicated
On President Hinckley’s way home from Mexico on Friday, 14 November, he stopped at the Atlanta Georgia Temple to rededicate the temple baptistry, portions of which had been enlarged to accommodate more members participating in proxy baptisms. When President Hinckley originally dedicated the Atlanta temple in June 1983, he said the temple baptistry would be enlarged in the future. Attending the baptistry rededication were 37 local stake presidents and their wives. The Atlanta temple serves members in all or parts of the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
USU, BYU Devotionals
On 21 October President Hinckley addressed Latter-day Saint students gathered for a devotional in Logan, Utah, at Utah State University’s Spectrum. He spoke of four basic obligations: to one’s vocation, to one’s family, to the Church, to one’s self. Of Church service he said: “Let the Church be your dear friend. Let it be your great companion. Serve wherever you are called to serve. Do what you are asked to do. Every position you hold will add to your capacity.”
Of the obligation to self, President Hinckley said: “You also need time to meditate and ponder, to think, to wonder at the great plan of happiness that the Lord has outlined for His children. … I heard President David O. McKay say to the members of the Twelve on one occasion, ‘Brethren, we do not spend enough time meditating.’ I believe that with all my heart. Our lives become extremely busy. We run from one thing to another. We wear ourselves out in thoughtless pursuit of goals which are highly ephemeral. We are entitled to spend some time with ourselves in introspection, in development.”
On 4 November, addressing some 23,000 students gathered for a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, President Hinckley said: “I hope that you are gaining much more than a knowledge of the organization of the scriptures and such matters as that. I hope that you are receiving a great desire to walk in the footsteps of the Master, to reach out to those in distress, to serve the Church with great faithfulness, and to serve your fellowmen in a spirit of love and consecration.”
Speaking of “the BYU experience,” President Hinckley said: “I hope that this university will give to you a great sense of tolerance and respect for those not of your faith. The true gospel of Jesus Christ never led to bigotry. It never led to self-righteousness. It never led to arrogance. The true gospel of Jesus Christ leads to brotherhood, to friendship, to appreciation of others, to respect and kindness and love.”
Mormon Battalion Monument Rededicated
“I think our people generally don’t know very much about the Mormon Battalion,” said President Hinckley at the rededication of the Mormon Battalion Monument on the grounds of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, 1 November. “They know a few broad brush strokes, but that is all. In my judgment, with the exception of the sufferings of the handcart pioneers of 1856, the Mormon Battalion suffered more than any other body of our pioneers. That is saying a very great deal, but I believe it with all my heart.”
Originally dedicated in 1927 and recently restored, the 29-foot monument features a stone sculpture of Columbia overshadowing a bronze battalion soldier.