Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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SALT LAKE CITY — The 181st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened Saturday morning under blue skies and balmy temperatures, with a full house of 20,000-plus conference-goers anxious to hear from their church leaders — especially their prophet.
Who, it turns out, wasn't there at the start of the morning session.
According to a church spokesman, President Thomas S. Monson was "delayed en route" to the conference. More than a few members of the congregation noted his unexplained absence, which made the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's moving rendition of "We Ever Pray for Thee, Our Prophet Dear" all the more poignant.
When he arrived in the Conference Center during the singing of the intermediate hymn, "Redeemer of Israel," he was smiling and appeared to be fit and healthy, much to the relief of all who had noticed.
"Hello!" he said jauntily when he rose to speak right after the hymn. "I wonder who I should call upon to substitute for me?"
He didn't say why he was late, but he did immediately announce the construction of six new temples to be built in Provo, Utah; Paris, France; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Durban, South Africa; Barranquilla, Colombia; and Star Valley, Wyo.
"I think I'll dedicate that one," President Monson quipped after announcing the new temple in Star Valley, which will be the state of Wyoming's first. "There's good fishing there!"
The announcement of the new temple in Provo drew an audible response from the Conference Center congregation. President Monson explained that the temple would be built on the site of the Provo Tabernacle, which was burned late last year. He indicated that the current Provo Temple is among the busiest in the church — the new temple will take some of the pressure off that temple.
The church's "hopes" to build a temple in Paris were actually announced earlier this year, in response to news reports in France. The announcement Saturday made it official. This will be the first temple in France.
The Kinshasa and Durban temples will be the fourth and fifth temples on the African continent. The existing African temples are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; and Aba, Nigeria.
The Barranquilla temple will be the second in Colombia. The first is in Bogota. The new temple will serve 45,000 members of the church in Colombia and Venezuela.
The new temple in Star Valley will serve members of the church living in western Wyoming, who now must travel to Idaho Falls and Rexburg in Idaho to attend the temple — a journey that can be difficult during winter months.
"No church-built facility is more important than a temple," President Monson said. "Temples are places where relationships are sealed together to last through the eternities. We are grateful for all the many temples across the world and for the blessing they are in the lives of our members."
President Monson said that although the church is making progress in placing temples closer to its worldwide membership, "there are still areas of the world where temples are so distant from our members that they cannot afford the travel required to get to them." He reminded members of the General Temple Patron Assistance Fund, which provides "a one-time visit to the temple for those who otherwise would not be able to go to the temple," and he encouraged those who would like to contribute to this fund to do so through their regular church contributions.
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