As Church membership grew, Church leaders began to purchase property across the country for meetinghouses and other purposes. In 1970, Gregory Billikopf’s teacher, a priest, announced that their Catholic school was being sold to the “Mormons.” The teacher commented, “You Chileans think that the Catholic church is the only religion.” Billikopf thought, “Of course, what else?” He and the other students were told to write a report on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints. Billikopf’s report received the highest grade in the class, but more importantly it eventually led to his conversion to the Church. Billikopf later wrote, “How was I to know … that one day, on that very property [the Catholic school], I would attend the house of the Lord—the Santiago Chile Temple?”
This temple was built during a turbulent time for the Church in Chile. Erroneously believing that the Church acted for the United States government, certain political groups vandalized or destroyed meetinghouses and attacked members. In spite of the hazards, membership continued to increase rapidly, leading to the 1980 announcement of the Santiago Chile Temple, the first for Spanish-speaking South America. Members gathered from the entire length of the country to attend the dedication in 1983.
Two decades later, while serving as Area President in Chile, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles referred to Chilean members as exemplars of temple attendance: “For the Punta Arenas Saints it is a 4,200-mile round-trip bus ride to the Santiago temple. For a husband and wife it can take up to 20 percent of an annual local income just for the transportation alone.” He also noted the support temple caravan participants received from their fellow Saints: “Only 50 people can be accommodated on the bus, but for every excursion 250 others come out to hold a brief service with them the morning of their departure.”