Jason Swensen
Just weeks after undergoing surgery, President Gordon B. Hinckley arrives at the LDS temple in Santiago, Chile, for a rededication ceremony in March 2006.

President Gordon B. Hinckley presided over dozens of temple dedications in all corners of the globe during his tenure as church president.

But the March 12, 2006, rededication of the Santiago, Chile, Temple was different.

Prior to the event, LDS Chileans and fellow members worldwide wondered if this quintessential temple builder would be strong enough to participate. For essentially the first time in his long, long life, President Hinckley was ailing. He had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous growth just weeks earlier.

But in Santiago, I witnessed a memorable comeback of sorts for President Hinckley. His trip to Chile to preside over the rededication of the temple and a member devotional at a Santiago soccer stadium a day earlier marked his first public appearance since the operation.

Almost every major news agency in Utah made the long trip to southern South America to cover the event. I filed stories and photos for the Deseret Morning News and the Church News. Folks worldwide were anxious to follow President Hinckley's return.

When the church leader arrived at the stadium, it was evident he had lost weight. But he moved about surely. His mind was sharp. His voice was strong.

"I wondered whether I would be able to get here," President Hinckley told the tens of thousands gathered inside the stadium. "I pondered over it. I prayed about it. I decided I would make the effort. I am so grateful that I have done so."

He counseled the Chilean members. He told them he loved, admired and respected them. When President Hinckley left the stadium, his speedy return to public leadership was saluted by thousands in the crowd waving white handkerchiefs.

The next day, President Hinckley rededicated the Santiago, Chile, Temple. Always media savvy, President Hinckley spent a moment with the news corps gathered outside the temple following the ceremony.

"It was a wonderful occasion," he said. "I'm glad I came."

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve also made the trip to Chile. He marveled at President Hinckley's leadership.

"President Hinckley was at his best ...," Elder Perry said. "You wouldn't know he had ever been ill. His vigor was absolutely amazing."

E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com