When President Howard W. Hunter created the Mexico City Contreras Stake on Dec. 11, 1994, it marked another milestone in the church's history with the Latin American people, particularly those in Mexico. The stake was the LDS Church's 2,000th.
On the same trip, the first visit to Mexico by an LDS Church president in nearly 17 years, President Hunter was the center of attention at a lighting ceremony that evening on the Mexico City Temple grounds. Just before the ceremony, he served as host at a reception for religious leaders at the visitors center.For the stake division, President Hunter was accompanied by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Lino Alvarez of the Seventy, president of the Mexico South Area who conducted the conference.
In addition to the creation of the Contreras Stake, the presidencies of the Ermita, Tlalpan and Iztapalapa stakes were reorganized, and the Iztapalapa Stake was renamed the Mexico City Mexico Meyehualco Stake.
In his remarks, President Hunter encouraged members to do works that the Savior commanded. "If we are faithful in so doing, the Lord has promised us rich blessings," he said.
He also urged members to learn by regularly attending sacrament and other Sabbath meetings and church activities as well as paying an honest tithing and generous fast offering, living the Word of Wisdom and holding a current temple recommend.
The spirit of devotion was manifest as some members arrived at the Churubusco Stake Center the night before the church service and slept on the sidewalks in order to secure good seats. More than 4,250 members attended the conference, and about 12,000 were present for the lighting ceremony.
On the previous day, President Hunter had participated in his first television interview since becoming church president.
Creating the 2,000th stake was the latest in a list of church history-making visits to Mexico by President Hunter.
In May 1967, he and Elder Marion G. Romney presided at Mexico's first stake division, when the Mexico City North Stake was created from the Mexico City Stake. Elder Romney had organized the Mexico City Stake in December 1961.
Then 81/2 years later, in November 1975, then-Elder Hunter, a member of the Council of the Twelve, accepted an assignment to divide and realign several stakes in Mexico. His recommendation raised some eyebrows at home because it was the first time that many stakes had been created at one time. He helped establish a record then unequaled in the church - creating 15 stakes out of the then-existing five in Mexico City.
He was assisted by Elder J. Thomas Fyans, who was an assistant to the Twelve and area supervisor in Mexico and Central America at the time.
His recommendation came after conferring with Elder Fyans and meeting with the regional representatives and the mission president and reviewing information from stake presidents.
Mention of the reorganization was on the cover of the Church News. The story inside ran for 21/2 pages.
"Our purpose," President Hunter wrote in his journal, "was to reduce the size of the stakes, to better align them, to reduce travel of members and to provide for the rapid growth that is taking place in Mexico. It was the consensus that the smaller stakes can be better trained, that leadership can be more effective, and the anticipated growth of about 1,000 members commencing by March will be better fellowshiped."
Elder Hunter and Elder Fyans talked with F. Burton Howard, the church's legal counsel for Mexican Affairs at the time, in Salt Lake City, and he said he would discuss the matter with President Romney and call them back. "When the call was returned," President Hunter later said, "President Kimball and President Romney were on the line with Brother Howard. I am sure they were shocked when we explained our proposal, but after our explanation, they authorized us to proceed."
Elder Hunter and Elder Fyans interviewed leaders for an entire day and into the late evening, and "by 11 o'clock, 15 stake presidencies had been selected and called." Then, President Hunter concluded: "I doubt there has ever been such a mass organization in the church, and we were tired by the time we got home."
Today, there are 27 stakes with "Mexico City" as the first two words of their name. Two of the stake presidents called, Horacio A. Tenario (Mexico City Mexico Satelite) and Jorge A. Rojas (Mexico City Mexico Camarones), and one of the first counselors, Lino Alvarez (Mexico City Arbolillo), later served as general authorities in the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
Actually, before their return to Salt Lake City, President Hunter and Elder Fyans attended a seminar for presidents of missions in Mexico and Central America, organized the Poza Rica Mexico Stake from a district of the Mexico Veracruz Mission, visited some Mayan ruins and stopped in Houston to create the Houston Texas North Stake out of the Houston Texas Stake.
The next year, after another visit to Mexico, President Spencer W. Kimball good-naturedly asked him why he had created only three new stakes. And in May 1977, he wrote, "Bruce McConkie has returned and reported that he had organized five stakes in South America in the past 10 days. President Kimball asked if he was trying to catch up with my record."
Time proved President Hunter right. The church continued to grow rapidly in Mexico, and within two years, some of the 15 stakes were ready to be divided.
Only 14 months after he organized the Poza Rica Stake, he returned to divide it, creating the Poza Rica Palmas Stake. The next day he created the Veracruz Mexico Reforma Stake out of the Veracruz Mexico Stake. A week later, he organized the Merida Mexico Stake, the first stake in the Yucatan Peninsula.
This particularly pleased him as chairman of the board of the New World Archaeological Foundation. He wrote it was "in the heart of the Mayan area of Mesoamerica, which has such great significance in the Book of Mormon history."
Elder Fyans, now general authority emeritus and president of the St. George Temple, said in early January 1995 he was thrilled that the 2,000th stake had been organized in Mexico.
Next to the United States, Mexico has the largest population of church members in any one nation.
"I'm sure it was special for the Mexican Saints to have the 2,000th stake formed there because there has been an unusual outpouring of the spirit in the country. The Book of Mormon has many promises to the seed of Lehi. The Book of Mormon was to come forth as a witness to them as another testament of Jesus Christ. It has borne witness to these wonderful, deserving descendants of Lehi, and the prophecies contained in the Book of Mormon are being fulfilled in their behalf today," Elder Fyans said.
Organization of the 2,000th stake is "really history in the making. It is an amazing thing to see all of this take place. It is overwhelming. It surely bears witness that the Lord is in the heavens and his influence is here," Elder Fyans said.