My beloved brothers and sisters, on behalf of the worldwide membership of this Church, I extend to our Catholic neighbors and friends our heartfelt sympathy at this time of great sorrow. Pope John Paul II has worked tirelessly to advance the cause of Christianity, to lift the burdens of the poor, and to speak fearlessly in behalf of moral values and human dignity. He will be greatly missed, particularly by the very many who have looked to him for leadership.
Now, my brothers and sisters, I think it appropriate that in opening this conference I give a few words of accountability concerning our stewardship during the past 10 years.
On March 12, 1995, there was bestowed upon us the high and sacred responsibility of the Presidency.
In the conference that followed I made this statement:
“Now, my brethren and sisters, the time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a season to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth, and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike” (“This Is the Work of the Master,” Ensign, May 1995, 71).
You must be the judge of how far we have come in realizing the fulfillment of that invitation given 10 years ago.
This past decade has been a wonderful season in the history of the Church. There has been a remarkable flowering of the work. There have been many meaningful accomplishments.
This forward thrust is not the work of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, the Seventy, or the Presiding Bishopric alone. It is the result of the faith, the prayers, the efforts, the dedicated service of every member of a stake presidency or high council; of every bishopric and quorum presidency; of every auxiliary presidency; and of every faithful, active member of the Church across the world.
To each of you, wherever you may be, I express the feelings of my heart and thank you for your great and dedicated service. What wonderful people you are.
The majesty and the wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith shines today with resplendent luster.
As we stand on the summit of these years and look back, we must never feel arrogant or proud, but we can feel humbly grateful for what has been accomplished in a variety of undertakings.
For instance, the Church has grown across the world until our membership outside of North America exceeds that in North America. We have become a great international family scattered through 160 nations.
In these past 10 years more than 500 new stakes have been created and more than 4,000 new wards and branches. Three million new members have been added.
The enrollment in our education system has doubled, increasing by approximately 200,000. For the most part, our youth are stronger and more faithful.
The Perpetual Education Fund has been created. We started with nothing but hope and faith. Today nearly 18,000 young people are being assisted. They live in 27 different nations. They are being trained and are moving out of the slough of poverty in which they and their forebears have lived for generations. Their skills are being refined and their earnings multiplied.
We have greatly increased the number of temples. In 1995, there were 47. Today, there are 119, with three more to be dedicated this year.
The Book of Mormon was had in 87 languages in 1995. Today, it is available in 106 languages.
Fifty-one million copies of the Book of Mormon have been distributed during these past 10 years.
We have constructed literally thousands of buildings across the earth. They are of a better quality and more suitable to our needs than those previously built.
In addition, we have constructed this remarkable hall from which we speak today, the unique and beautiful Conference Center here in Salt Lake City.
With all of this and much more, we have reached out across the earth to assist those in distress and need wherever they may be. In the last 10 years we have supplied in cash and commodities hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to those not of our faith.
We have traveled the earth bearing witness of this, the work of the Almighty. During these same years I personally have traveled nearly a million miles visiting some 70 countries. My beloved companion traveled with me until a year ago when she passed away on the 6th of April. It has been lonely since then.
Our hope concerning the future is great and our faith is strong.
We know that we have scarcely scratched the surface of that which will come to pass in the years that lie ahead.
I am now in my 95th year. I never dreamed that I would live this long. My life reminds me of a sign that hung by a rusty staple to a run-down barbed-wire fence in Texas. It read:
Burned out by drought,
Drowned out by flud waters,
Et out by jackrabbits,
Sold out by sheriff,
I hope to have the privilege of associating with you, my beloved friends and coworkers, for as long as the Lord permits. And I hope that service will be acceptable.
Our foundation is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The authority of the holy priesthood is here, restored under the hands of those who received it directly from our Lord. The curtains have been parted, and the God of heaven and His Beloved Son have spoken to the boy prophet Joseph in opening this last and final dispensation.
Our burden in going forward is tremendous. But our opportunity is glorious.
I now repeat what I said 10 years ago, let us “stand a little taller, … lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
This, my brothers and sisters, is my invitation to you this morning. I extend my love, my blessing, and my gratitude as we open this great conference. May the Spirit of the Lord direct all that occurs is my humble prayer, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.