PANAMA CITY, Panama Sunday's thunderous dedication of the Panama City, Panama Temple marked several historic firsts.
For the first time, thousands of Panamanian members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a temple to call their own. Several years after plans were announced to build such an edifice here in the capital city, the church's 127th temple was dedicated in four sessions by President Thomas S. Monson.
And for the first time, President Monson's passport includes a Panamanian stamp. Despite serving as a general authority for more than four decades and becoming something of a globetrotter, the church's 16th president had never visited this Central American nation.
"I've long wanted to come to Panama," said President Monson at a Saturday evening cultural celebration staged in conjunction with the temple dedication. "Since I make the assignments, I assigned myself to be here."
If ever President Monson returns to Panama, it's a safe guess he'll bring an umbrella.
Just moments after President Monson stepped outside the temple Sunday morning to preside over the traditional cornerstone ceremony, a cloudburst opened, drenching anyone not sheltered by awnings.
A tenacious cornerstone choir didn't skip a note when lighting and a jarring clap of thunder made a historic moment even a bit more memorable.
Panama's rainy season lived up to its billing. LDS Panamanians say this temple built amidst a lush and elevated tropical forest that offers a view of the Panama Canal is also all they expected. And a bit more.
"The temple dedication was a divine experience," said Jacinta De Frias. "Now we know this temple will bless many lives not only for the members, but for our whole country."
The Panama City, Panama Temple will serve church members throughout the country. Prior to its dedication, observant members had to travel to Costa Rica to attend the temple in San Jose. For many, traveling across an international border exacted a heavy cost in time and purse.
Now LDS Panamanians say their spirits are enriched by the opening of this ornate edifice.
A temple in Panama "has given me more optimism it's given me more hope," said Panama City resident Ernesto Tejada.
The dedicatory events began Saturday at cultural celebration inside Panama City's Figali Convention Center. Almost 1,000 LDS Panamanian youths participated, performing a variety of local folkloric and cultural dances that included cumbias, salsas and the conga.
One youth group from the distant San Blas Islands spent three days traveling over water and road to take part in the festivities. President Monson, meanwhile, was joined in his traveling party by his second counselor in the First Presidency, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, along with Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve. President Monson's daughter, Ann M. Dibb, also participated in the Panama event. Sister Dibb is second counselor in the church's Young Women General Presidency.
In his brief comments at the cultural event, President Monson told the Panamanian members that they were loved by God. He also spoke of the importance of families, prayer and attending the temple.