“President Hinckley Makes Historic Visit to Europe,” Ensign, Dec. 2002, 66–68
To the thrill of Saints across Europe, President Gordon B. Hinckley made a historic tour of the continent in September. While there, the prophet dedicated a new temple, rededicated a refurbished one, and met with members and government officials in Ukraine, Russia, and Iceland—the first visits of a latter-day prophet to these nations.
“There is strength throughout the world from those who have heard the restored gospel and accepted the truth,” reported President Hinckley of his travels.
Freiberg Germany Temple
Ask the local Saints and they’ll tell you the dedication of a small, modest temple in 1985 became the catalyst that eventually opened the doors for the Church in Eastern Europe. It was the final step in a series of events that started in the 1960s when Church members in the German Democratic Republic were promised by President Thomas S. Monson, now First Counselor in the First Presidency, that they would have every blessing available to members elsewhere.
Surrounded by thousands of tearful members who only a dozen years ago had limited contact with Church leaders, President Gordon B. Hinckley rededicated the completely refurbished Freiberg Germany Temple in one session on 7 September 2002.
“We thank Thee for the manifestation of Thy power when this temple was first built, that Thou didst touch the hearts of men in a miraculous manner to make it possible to construct it and dedicate it to the blessing of the very many who have used it,” prayed President Hinckley as he rededicated the temple.
“Bless this land and its people. May the nation go forward in peace and its people be prospered. … [And may] Thy work become a mighty force for good in this favored part of Thy vineyard.”
The Freiberg temple renovations took more than a year to complete and include significant structural upgrades as well as a new baptistry, office space, and an angel Moroni statue.
More than 6,000 members from throughout the temple district participated in the rededication. Busloads traveled from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine. Special translation facilities in the nearby Freiberg Ward meetinghouse allowed Saints to hear proceedings in their own language. Proceedings were also broadcast to stake meetinghouses in Dresden, Berlin, and Leipzig, Germany.
Among those attending the rededication was Edith Krause from the Prenzlau Branch, Neubrandenburg Germany District. Sister Krause joined the Church before World War II, and over the years, she and her husband, Walter, were instrumental in sustaining the Church when Saints were allowed only limited contact with Church leaders.
“We came this long distance because the Church is our joy,” she said. “We are examples that when the Lord wants something, nothing can stop Him.”
The Hague Netherlands Temple
Early on the morning of 8 September, faithful Saints lined the walkway leading to the front door of The Hague Netherlands Temple. As a car rolled to a stop and President Gordon B. Hinckley stepped out onto the sidewalk, the strains of “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” floated through the morning breeze and greeted the beloved leader, who on that day dedicated The Hague temple, the Church’s 114th.
“The faithful of this land have given so much for their testimony of Thy divine work,” said President Hinckley in the dedicatory prayer. “Bless to our memory all who have gone before, and bless mightily those who now walk in faith before Thee.”
“Dear Father, we plead with Thee that this day of dedication may herald a new day in this great nation,” he continued. “Touch the hearts and the minds of the people of the land. Lead them from the pursuit of the things of the world to a new yearning for knowledge of Thee and for things divine and eternal.”
The temple district includes the Netherlands, Belgium, and part of France. Saints filled the temple as well as meetinghouses in Rotterdam and The Hague to participate in the services.
“We were very excited in 1999 to hear that the Church was going to build a temple here,” says Robert Kirschbaum, longtime member of the Church in the Haarlem Ward, The Hague Netherlands Stake. “It seemed that immediately difficulties started, but we overcame them all, and now you have no idea how blessed we feel having a temple in the Netherlands.”
More than 32,000 guests, including local government and civic leaders, toured the open house held on 17–31 August. The temple’s construction workers and their families were also taken on a private tour of the finished building.
“There was to be no swearing, no smoking, and no alcohol on the job, and all our people showed respect and understanding for this,” says Ad Backens, project manager for the construction company that built the temple. “More and more, I felt that what we were building was unique; this was going to be a temple in which members of your church would find inner peace, and I was convinced that this was really the greatest structure I have ever been able to build.”
With record numbers in attendance, President Hinckley addressed a full auditorium in Kiev, Ukraine, on 9 September. More than 3,200 Saints, government officials, and community members gathered for the first visit of a Church President to this Eastern European nation.
Telling the congregation, “Ye are a chosen generation” (1 Pet. 2:9), President Hinckley said, “This is the greatest age in the history of the world when you and I have come to earth [to] partake of all the blessings that are available to us, and in a particular way, the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He admonished the congregation to cling to the Word of Wisdom, the blessings of the priesthood, and the law of tithing. “You cannot afford not to pay [tithing], my brothers and sisters,” President Hinckley said. “You have made a covenant with the Lord, and … the Lord has the power to fulfill His promises.”
In conclusion, he expressed his love and said, “I just wish that I could come down and put my arms around every one of you and say, ‘Thank you.’”
In a reception before the meeting, President Hinckley met with Ukrainian government officials, including Viktor Bondarenko, chair of the State Committee for Religious Affairs. President Hinckley thanked Mr. Bondarenko for his kindness in assisting with matters pertaining to the Church in Ukraine. He expressed particular appreciation for Mr. Bondarenko’s help in arrangements for the Church meeting that took place in the Ukraine Palace Concert Hall. Few religious events have been held in the government-owned hall.
It wasn’t hard to recognize those en route to the Cosmos Hotel to hear President Hinckley on 10 September. Men in white shirts and women in skirts—with scriptures tucked under their arms—thronged Metro stations around Moscow. In all, more than 2,000 people packed three halls, anticipating instruction from their prophet.
“I never dreamed I would be in Moscow, Russia, speaking to a large group of this size,” President Hinckley said. “Thank you for coming, for traveling to be here. It is a great day.”
He admonished members to “be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). “Believe in God; go to Him in prayer as His sons and daughters. You have divinity in you. Believe in Him; worship Him in spirit and truth,” he said. He encouraged youth to hold fast to the gospel and to prepare for missions. He also encouraged members to be good citizens and strengthen their land.
“When the meeting was finished, I joined other people on the street in front of the entrance of the hotel. I did not want to go away immediately but wanted to share my feelings with the other members of the Church,” said Maryana Dombrovskaya, Severo-Zamoskvoretsky Branch, Moscow Russia North District. “There were many people on the street. … We were a community—not a crowd.”
Prior to meeting with members, President Hinckley received a warm reception from local government and religious officials. Among these was Viktor Zorkaltsev, chair of the Public Unions and Religious Organizations Affairs Committee of the Russian parliament. President Hinckley expressed his gratitude for the manner in which the Russian government has aided the establishment of the Church in that nation. He also emphasized that missionaries who serve in Russia become the nation’s best ambassadors when they return home.
The weather had been blustery and rainy, but the clouds gave way and President Hinckley arrived in Reykjavík, Iceland, on a calm autumn day. There he met with more than 200 enthusiastic Saints on 11 September.
Speaking in Iceland’s only Church meetinghouse, President Hinckley encouraged the congregation to strengthen their marriages, live the Word of Wisdom, pay tithing, and share the gospel. He praised early Icelandic members of the Church who emigrated to Utah in the 19th century in the infancy of the Church. He also praised the modern pioneers whose faith and diligence are helping the Church grow in Iceland.
While in Reykjavík, President Hinckley paid a courtesy visit to President Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson, head of state for Iceland. They met at President Grimsson’s residence, a small complex of gleaming white buildings with red roofs, surrounded by lush green lawns.
The two discussed the emigration of early members of the Church from Iceland to Utah. “Their journey to Utah required extraordinary courage and strength,” observed President Grimsson. He remembered fondly his 1997 visit to Utah and noted how impressed he is with the manner in which the descendants of early Icelandic pioneers have retained their ties to the land of their forbears.
President Hinckley spoke of the Church’s emphasis on the family, of the growth of the Church in the world, and of the importance of building strong local leadership. “We are a Christian people,” he said, “who are trying to act like Christians.”