LDS apostles return to southern South America to visit Mormon members, missionaries and political leaders

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4 2013 11:00 a.m. MST

Visits with civic and religious leaders

On Nov. 11, Elder Holland paid a visit to the Palacio de La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, where 10 years earlier he had visited and become friends with then-President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos.

On this more recent visit, Elder Holland was accompanied by Elder Zeballos and Elder Vinas. Upon entering the palace, Elder Holland was greeted with a warm “abrazo” (an embrace) by Mr. Gonzalo Guerrero, Chile’s director of government religious affairs. The two men had become friends at last month’s BYU International Law and Religion Symposium.

Elder Holland was then escorted to the office of current Chilean President Sebastian Piñera. The two exchanged friendly conversation, with Elder Holland commending the president’s support of family values and Chile’s history of religious devotion. The apostle also noted the significant improvements in the Chilean economy since the Hollands had lived in South America a decade ago.

A Harvard graduate and a successful businessman, President Piñera spoke of his focus on increasing employment to help raise and stimulate the national economy.

The two men also spoke of the growth and influence of the church in Chile. Elder Holland told the president that “there are nearly 600,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the country, even though the church’s first real presence began with the initial missionaries arriving in Santiago just 50 years ago. We are very proud of that growth in his country we love so much,” Elder Holland said, “a love that we have demonstrated by building one beautiful temple in Santiago and announcing the construction of a second one to begin soon in Concepción.”

The apostle also spoke of the commitment of members worldwide to obey the laws of their respective nations and being “active citizens.” The LDS Church, he added, treasures religious freedom.

President Piñera spoke of his own familiarity of the church and his visits to Utah, including a stop during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The Chilean leader added that he had read the Book of Mormon after receiving a copy from his friend and business associate Rafael Viñas.

“That's my brother!” exclaimed a delighted Elder Francisco Viñas.

At one point in their visit, a little boy walked into the presidential office. Elder Holland, somewhat surprised at this informality in a “state visit,” smiled broadly and spoke briefly to the boy in Spanish.

“That's my grandson,” said President Piñera, “he came to work with me today.”

“I needed nothing more than that sweet, impromptu moment,” Elder Holland later said, “to know that Sebasian Piñera was a great man. He did not reprove the boy for intruding, nor act in any way embarrassed. Indeed he seemed very proud. That was ‘grandfathering’ at its best,” smiled the Apostle.

“I will always remember that moment in an otherwise formal visit.”

Before leaving, Elder Holland presented a gift to the president, the statue “Family Ties” with a brass plate engraved with the leader’s family names — a most appropriate gift in light of the family incident just witnessed. He also gave President Piñera a globe made lapis lazuli, a blue stone found only in Chile and Afghanistan.

In return, President Pinera presented Elder Holland with a special edition book celebrating Chile’s bicentennial.

Meanwhile, Elder Christofferson made a presidential visit of his own in South America on Nov. 13, calling upon newly-elected Paraguayan President Horacio Manuel Cartes. The apostle was joined by Sister Katherine Christofferson and a small contingent of local priesthood leaders, including Elder González.

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