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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
President Thomas S. Monson leaves the morning session of General Conference at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011.

To read excerpts of talks from the Saturday morning and afternoon sessions of general conference, as well as excerpts of the Priesthood session, click here. Excerpts for Sunday morning and afternoon session will also be available after the sessions occur. To watch or listen to the Sunday sessions, click here.

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.

This conference marks the 48th year since President Monson was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"It seems impossible that so many years have come and gone since then," he said. "When we're busy time seems to pass far too quickly."

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles seemed to also be mindful of the passage of time when he led into his counsel to young members of the church during the opening conference session with John Ciardi's poem, "About Crows":

The old crow is getting slow;

the young crow is not.

Of what the young crow does not know,

the old crow knows a lot.

At knowing things, the old crow is still

the young crow's master.

What does the old crow not know?

How to go faster.

The young crow flies above, below, and rings

around the slow old crow.

What does the fast young crow not know?

— Where to go!

"You young crows need not fly aimlessly to and fro, unsure of the path ahead," President Packer said. "There are those who know the way." He promised young people if they will follow the counsel of church leaders, "you will be watched over and protected, and you yourself will know by the promptings of the Holy Ghost which way to go."

A wide variety of gospel themes and subjects were explored by 20 different speakers during the three Saturday conference sessions. For example, during the morning session President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, assured listeners of how much their Heavenly Father loves them, and how much they matter to him. And Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about the power of the scriptures in our lives, and shared some examples of scriptures from all four of the church's Standard Works that were meaningful to him.

During the afternoon session four members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke. Elder L. Tom Perry spoke of the increased attention the church has been receiving lately, and presented four things that Latter-day Saints can do to advance public understanding of the church. Elder David A. Bednar testified of the spirit of Elijah and urged all members of the church — especially the youth of the church — to participate in the "vital work of salvation and exaltation." Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught about the doctrine of repentance, calling it "the key to happiness here and hereafter." And Elder Neil L. Andersen spoke about children and families, and the happiness each will bring in this life and in the eternities.

Another apostle, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, spoke during the Saturday evening priesthood session. He was, in his words, "a one-man recruiting station" for "men young and old" to join the battle between good and evil as full-time missionaries because thousands more missionaries are needed. He was joined during priesthood meeting, as always, by all three members of the First Presidency. President Uchtdorf spoke about the church welfare program, indicating that providing in the Lord's way "is central to our doctrine; it is the essence of our religion" and "cannot be neglected or set aside." President Henry B. Eyring shared a number of experiences that illustrated how the process of preparation continues throughout the life of a Latter-day Saint priesthood holder and how God is "calling and preparing you to his service and the service of others."

President Monson concluded the day of conference sessions with a priesthood meeting sermon in which he taught that "as holders of the priesthood of God it is essential that we are able to face — with courage— whatever challenges come our way." He reminded his listeners that living church standards often places them at odds with the rest of the world, and urged them to develop the spiritual strength required to be able to stand alone against the world.

"With all my heart and soul I pray that every man who holds the priesthood will honor that priesthood and be true to the trust which was conveyed when it was conferred," President Monson said. "May each of us who holds the priesthood of God know when he believes. May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe, and if we must stand alone in the process, may we do so courageously, strengthened by the knowledge that in reality we are never alone when we stand with our Father in Heaven."

The 181st Semiannual General Conference of the church will conclude Sunday with sessions at 10 a.m and 2 p.m. at the Conference Center.

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