With the world facing difficult economic times, Latter-day Saints must increase their efforts to live prudently, avoid debt and prepare to provide for those who are adversely affected, President Thomas S. Monson counseled on Saturday.

His remarks came during the evening priesthood session of the 178th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Many areas of the world have experienced difficult economic times. Businesses have failed, jobs have been lost and investments have been jeopardized," said President Monson. "We must make certain that those for whom we share responsibilities do not go hungry or unclothed or unsheltered."

Working together, the priesthood of the church can make "near miracles take place," he said.

He repeated long-standing advice that church members be "prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living and avoid excessive or unnecessary debt." The financial affairs of the church are conducted within the same guidelines, he said, "for we are aware that your tithing and other contributions have not come without sacrifice and are sacred funds.

"Let us make of our homes, brethren, sanctuaries of righteousness, places of prayer and abodes of love, that we might merit the blessings that can come only from our Heavenly Father. We need his guidance in our daily lives," President Monson told the all-male priesthood gathering.

With downtown Salt Lake City drenched in light but persistent rain, umbrellas were the order of the day for tens of thousands of conference-goers. Many who could not be accommodated in the Conference Center and other buildings stood on the grounds with dripping umbrellas — or simply absorbing the rain. Thousands of LDS faithful gathered in meeting halls surrounding the Salt Lake Temple and in other sites to listen to church leaders. Millions more received the messages of the semiannual gathering via electronic networks.

Elder Richard G. Scott, who last April gave a stern and straightforward talk on the evils of abuse, made a special directive during the priesthood session that LDS men show due consideration for women.

While it is customary in some cultures for men to be in a dominant role, LDS priesthood holders should act only to give, to serve, to lift and to inspire, he said. There is no place for unrighteous control or force in marriage.

"God will hold us accountable for how we treat his precious daughters. Therefore, let us treat them as he would wish to have them treated," Elder Scott said.

He referred to the church's Family Proclamation, which states that husband and wife should be equal partners in marriage. He said he feels assured that every wife in the church would welcome that opportunity and support it. Whether it occurs depends upon the husband.

The notion that men are superior must be rejected by priesthood-holders, he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

In Saturday's opening session, President Monson announced the construction of temples in the greater Kansas City area; Philadelphia; Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Cordoba, Argentina; and Rome, Italy. When 17 now in some phase of planning or construction are completed, along with these five newly announced, the number of operating temples will rise to 145.

President Monson said the church missionary effort continues to draw new converts throughout the world and asked members to pray for the opening of countries that continue to bar missionary efforts within their boundaries.

When then-President Spencer W. Kimball made a similar plea more than 30 years ago, "we saw miracles unfold as country after country, formerly closed to the church, was opened. Such will transpire again as we pray in faith."

Speakers representing the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, Quorums of Seventy and church auxiliaries offered advice, encouragement and admonition to live worthy of the blessings available through righteous living during Saturday's morning and afternoon sessions. The current economic turmoil and unrest in many parts of the world were a recurring theme. Living the gospel and increasing faithfulness were suggested by several speakers as the answers to the stresses of troubled times.

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve told Latter-day Saints Saturday morning that hard times reinforce the wisdom of living prudently and within one's means. "Our income should determine the kind of housing we can afford, not the neighbor's big home across the street."

Several other speakers urged simplicity in living and increased faith and spirituality.

"We live in the perilous times prophesied by the Apostle Paul," said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve. "Those who try to walk the straight and narrow path see inviting detours on every hand. We can be distracted, degraded, downhearted or depressed." He offered as a solution the sincere and worthy partaking of the sacrament. "By participating weekly and appropriately in the ordinance of the sacrament, we qualify for the promise that we will always have his spirit to be with us."

Drawing from her own experience as a young convert to the church, Sister Silvia H. Allred, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, urged Latter-day Saints to support the missionary effort in every way possible.

"Missionary work is the lifeblood of the church. There is no greater work, no more important work. It blesses the lives of all those who participate in it. It will continue blessing future generations," she said.

It is not necessary for individuals to know everything about the gospel, said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Presidency of the Seventy. Gaining spiritual knowledge is a lifetime pursuit. But most members "know enough" upon which to build a testimony, he said.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, closed the Saturday morning session with the admonition that members should never succumb to despair but should cling to the hope that surmounts all challenges. "No matter how bleak the chapter of our lives may look today, because of the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we may hope for and be assured that the ending of the book of our lives will vastly exceed our grandest expectations."

Saturday afternoon, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, reiterated the challenge to accept without despair one's share of adversities as part of the human experience. He advocated a perspective that includes laughter and a focus on eternal things as antidotes to the inevitable negatives in life. Sometimes, he said, "the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome."

Since the days of Adam and Eve, angels have been special messengers from God to instruct, warn and give aid to God's children on the earth, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in the afternoon session, and they will continue to interact with those on earth as needed. Elder Holland then praised "angelic acts" performed by many members of the church.

"Brothers and sisters, I testify of angels, both the heavenly and the mortal kind. In doing so, I am testifying that God never leaves us alone or unaided in the challenges we face," Elder Holland said.

Among those huddled under umbrellas on the temple grounds were Noah Neff and Rachel Harris, both students at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Undaunted by the rain, they were enjoying the conference activities. Friday night, they attended the reunion of Neff's England Birmingham missionary group, an experience he described as "amazing."

Harris said she thought President Uchtdorf's Saturday morning talk was one of the best, although "I liked them all a lot." But President Uchtdorf's message of hope was one that is particularly needed right now, she said.

Kevin and June Spencer of Meridian, Idaho, and his mother, Arlene, of Emmett, Idaho, found the up-close-and-personal feeling of being with church leaders in the Conference Center to be a treat. "Usually we sit at home with the kids," said June Spencer. "It was very special to be here." Arlene Spencer also attended a missionary reunion Friday evening, mingling with those she had served with in the West Virginia Charleston mission.

The conference will reconvene today at 10 a.m., with the final session at 2 p.m.

E-mail: tvanleer@desnews.com