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Youths celebrate Gila Valley Temple in Arizona

Published: Sunday, May 23 2010 12:25 a.m. MDT

Youths participate in Gila Valley Cultural celebration Saturday.

Sarah Jane Weaver, Deseret News

THATCHER, Ariz. — More than 1,600 youths draped in white capes stood on the football field at Eastern Arizona College stadium on Saturday evening and watched as a replica Angel Moroni — sounding his horn — was hoisted high into the air.

The scene was a fitting end to a production staged to celebrate the dedication of the Gila Valley Temple — the 132nd temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The youths retold — through song, dance and spoken word — the rich cultural history of eastern Arizona. In the final moments of the show, they themselves became the foundation stones of the temple, standing close together wearing white. The Angel Moroni statue, common on most LDS temples — including the Gila Valley Temple — completed the scene as it rose above the man-made foundation.

President Thomas S. Monson presided at the event and is scheduled to dedicate the temple today. A capacity crowd of more than 3,500 attended the celebration, which was broadcast to LDS meetinghouses in the temple district and other locations in the United States.

President Monson stopped on his way into the stadium to address the crowd. "I love these big events," he said. "No one in the First Presidency or the Twelve advocate these big events more than Tom Monson."

"That's true," said President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, who accompanied President Monson to eastern Arizona.

To the delight of the audience, President Monson and President Eyring sang "Aya En El Rancho Grande" in Spanish.

Speaking to the audience during the program, President Monson said the Gila Valley Arizona Temple is the reason for the gathering.

"It shines as a beacon of righteousness to all who will follow its light," he said.

He told the young people to do their best and not worry if they make a mistake or two. "None of us will notice," he said. "Tonight will be a night you will never forget," he said.

Scenes in the production — titled "The Place Which God for Us Prepared" — highlighted the contributions of LDS Church members in eastern Arizona that have culminated with the building of the temple. For example, teens paid tribute to the Mormon Battalion, the Honeymoon Trail (the six-week round-trip route taken by early Latter-day Saints from the valley to the St. George Temple), cotton farming and canal digging, Eastern Arizona College (the oldest community college in Arizona) and mining. The show also highlighted the life and influence of eastern Arizona's favorite son — President Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th president of the LDS Church.

David Lunt, chairman of the event, told the youths during a dress rehearsal to look at the Angel Moroni statue and take a picture of the scene with their heart.

"Photograph this moment with your heart, and it is forever yours," he said. "What a picture."

Alexandria Alder, 16, of Thatcher, Ariz., said the finale — during which the youths sang the LDS hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints" — was her favorite part of the production. Everyone coming together in that moment, she said, symbolizes "everyone being excited about the temple."

"Everyone we know is doing this (production) together," added Jake Hansen, 18, of Thatcher. "Everyone wanted to get into this."

The Gila Valley, they explained, is different that other communities because families have roots in the area that run very deep.

"Everyone has been waiting so long for the temple," Alder said. "So many families are celebrating together."

e-mail: sarah@desnews.com

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