The world will be here in 2002, but it is the visit of just one man in 2001 that some Utahns find even more momentous.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet and leader of that country's government-in-exile, will visit Utah in May 2001. Although that's more than a year away, members of Utah's Tibetan community and the Utah Tibet Support Group are already making plans.On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Leavitt met with Nawang Rabgyal, a representative of the Dalai Lama, and Rinchen Dharlo, president of the Tibet Fund, as well as Utah residents Pema Chagzoetsang and Pamela Atkinson. The meeting helped formalize plans for an official state reception during the May 10-13 visit.

The Dalai Lama's Utah trip is part of a U.S. visit that will also include California, Wisconsin, Minneapolis and Oregon. This will be the first time he has been to Utah.

The first invitation to the Dalai Lama went out in 1992, not long after the arrival of the first group of Tibetan exiles who were part of the Tibetan resettlement project. Two years later, former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson met with the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India, home of the government-in-exile, and took with him invitations from Leavitt, then-Mayor Deedee Corradini and other local officials.

"I told him our community was very excited about the possibility of him coming and that we have a large Tibetan community," Wilson remembered. The Dalai Lama said that yes, he would love to come to Utah. "Then five years went by and I began to wonder in which reincarnation," Wilson said with a chuckle.

Over the years a dozen or so letters were sent back and forth between the Dalai Lama, the Utah Tibet Support Group and Pema Chagzoetsang, a Tibetan who has lived in Utah since 1983.

Of course the Dalai Lama is a very busy man with many invitations, but finally, about a year ago, a letter came to Chagzoetsang from the Dalai Lama accepting Utah's request.

"Utah is one of the key colonization sites in the United States," Wilson said. "The Dalai Lama wants his people to know that he cares about them." And, Wilson adds, the Dalai Lama spends a lot of his energies keeping the cause of a free Tibet alive, as well as helping raise funds for Tibetans who continue to escape from Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has run a government-in-exile in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959. That was the year Tibetans engaged in a national uprising against the occupying forces of the Chinese government, which had overrun Tibet 10 years earlier.

The spiritual leader of 6 million Tibetans in Tibet and around the world, the Dalai Lama has become revered by non-believers for his compassion and wisdom. In 1989 he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

His Utah visit will include an interfaith service, meetings with local spiritual leaders, a public lecture and Buddhist teachings.

You can reach Elaine Jarvik by e-mail at [email protected]