A recent apostolic trip to the southern nations of South America demonstrated the growing ties between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the leaders of many Latin American governments — even as the church continues to develop in both membership and devotion. On Nov. 14-15, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, both members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, together with Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy, participated in a review of the South America South Area. Several training meetings highlighted their tour with priesthood leaders, members and missionaries — along with cordial visits with civic and religious leaders in Chile and Paraguay.
Just over a year ago the Chile Area and the South America South Area were consolidated into a single area consisting of four countries — Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Elder Christofferson told the Church News that the dedicated members and church employees in the area “have made that [consolidation] a success.”
During their tour, the visiting Brethren were able to meet with tens of thousands of members, both in person and via live Internet broadcasts of various meetings.
One highlight was an area-wide meeting for married couples. The event was staged in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and broadcast to meetinghouses across the South America South Area. More than 35,600 people participated.
Speakers at the meeting included Elder Christofferson and his wife, Sister Katherine Christofferson, along with Elder Soares and Sister Rosana Soares.
Elder Holland and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, concluded the meeting, sharing the podium for a special question-and-answer session. The Hollands responded to a variety of queries that had been submitted prior to the meeting by members from across the area. Their candid answers covered a wide range of issues facing couples and families that included counsel on balancing family, work and church responsibilities and a discussion on helping children who have strayed from church activity.
Their tender counsel “brought a lot of tears and smiles,” said Elder Christofferson. “The people were wonderfully edified.”
In his remarks, Elder Christofferson said husbands and wives must first build strong, personal relationships with their Heavenly Father. A strong marital relationship will follow.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he added, prayerfully comes to unanimous decisions on key matters. “It ought to be the same in our marriages.”
The Brethren also presided over several missionary meetings that included some 2,500 full-time missionaries. Leadership meetings were also conducted in the Chilean cities of Concepcion and Santiago, along with Buenos Aires and the coastal city of Mar del Plata in Argentina.
A meeting was also held for church employees. The meeting originated in Buenos Aires and was transmitted to various offices across the South America South Area. Technology allowed the Brethren to see audience members viewing the broadcast in another city or country.
“We have a very talented and dedicated group of employees in the area,” Elder Christofferson noted.
Elder Holland and Elder Christofferson are not strangers to South America. Elder Holland presided over the Chile Area from 2002-2004, where his love for the Chilean people and culture grew deeply. When his assignment ended he left the country having made many lifelong friends both in and outside of the church.
Elder Christofferson developed a lifelong affection for the region while serving a full-time mission in Argentina from 1964-1966.
Meanwhile, the South America South Area Presidency are all sons of South America. Area President Elder Walter F. Gonzalez and his second counselor, Elder Francisco J. Vinas are Uruguayan. First counselor Elder Jorge F. Zeballos is from Chile.
Visits with civic and religious leaders
On Nov. 11, Elder Holland paid a visit to the Palacio de La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, where 10 years earlier he had visited and become friends with then-President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos.
On this more recent visit, Elder Holland was accompanied by Elder Zeballos and Elder Vinas. Upon entering the palace, Elder Holland was greeted with a warm “abrazo” (an embrace) by Mr. Gonzalo Guerrero, Chile’s director of government religious affairs. The two men had become friends at last month’s BYU International Law and Religion Symposium.
Elder Holland was then escorted to the office of current Chilean President Sebastian Piñera. The two exchanged friendly conversation, with Elder Holland commending the president’s support of family values and Chile’s history of religious devotion. The apostle also noted the significant improvements in the Chilean economy since the Hollands had lived in South America a decade ago.
A Harvard graduate and a successful businessman, President Piñera spoke of his focus on increasing employment to help raise and stimulate the national economy.
The two men also spoke of the growth and influence of the church in Chile. Elder Holland told the president that “there are nearly 600,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the country, even though the church’s first real presence began with the initial missionaries arriving in Santiago just 50 years ago. We are very proud of that growth in his country we love so much,” Elder Holland said, “a love that we have demonstrated by building one beautiful temple in Santiago and announcing the construction of a second one to begin soon in Concepción.”
The apostle also spoke of the commitment of members worldwide to obey the laws of their respective nations and being “active citizens.” The LDS Church, he added, treasures religious freedom.
President Piñera spoke of his own familiarity of the church and his visits to Utah, including a stop during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The Chilean leader added that he had read the Book of Mormon after receiving a copy from his friend and business associate Rafael Viñas.
“That's my brother!” exclaimed a delighted Elder Francisco Viñas.
At one point in their visit, a little boy walked into the presidential office. Elder Holland, somewhat surprised at this informality in a “state visit,” smiled broadly and spoke briefly to the boy in Spanish.
“That's my grandson,” said President Piñera, “he came to work with me today.”
“I needed nothing more than that sweet, impromptu moment,” Elder Holland later said, “to know that Sebasian Piñera was a great man. He did not reprove the boy for intruding, nor act in any way embarrassed. Indeed he seemed very proud. That was ‘grandfathering’ at its best,” smiled the Apostle.
“I will always remember that moment in an otherwise formal visit.”
Before leaving, Elder Holland presented a gift to the president, the statue “Family Ties” with a brass plate engraved with the leader’s family names — a most appropriate gift in light of the family incident just witnessed. He also gave President Piñera a globe made lapis lazuli, a blue stone found only in Chile and Afghanistan.
In return, President Pinera presented Elder Holland with a special edition book celebrating Chile’s bicentennial.
Meanwhile, Elder Christofferson made a presidential visit of his own in South America on Nov. 13, calling upon newly-elected Paraguayan President Horacio Manuel Cartes. The apostle was joined by Sister Katherine Christofferson and a small contingent of local priesthood leaders, including Elder González.
President Cartes, who was approaching his first 100 days in office, noted his connection with the church in improving the lives of the Paraguayan people through service and self-reliance.
“Everything is interrelated,” he said. “I am working on finding more jobs for my people and you are teaching them how to obtain one.”
President Cartes spoke of his admiration for the humanitarian work the church performs in his nation, often done in cooperation with local service organizations. He noted the efforts of the LDS Employment Resource Services in offering workshops about finding job and opening small businesses. The president also offered thanks for the church's involvement in the Instituto Nacional de Cancer where Latter-day Saint doctors have trained local medical professionals and the church has provided medical equipment. This undertaking was initiated following Elder David A. Bednar’s visit with the former President of Paraguay a year ago.
Elder Christofferson also presented President Cartes with a “Family Ties” statue that portrays a family reading the scriptures together. The apostle said he was confident the family was reading verses from the Bible or the Book of Mormon.
The Paraguayan leader appropriately placed the family-themed statue in the family room of the president’s official residence.
The president spoke of his own appreciation for the scriptures. “I read a Psalm every morning before starting my day,” he said. “I have confidence in doing that and in praying to the Lord.”
President Cartes then made a simple yet heartfelt request: “Please pray for me.” Elder Christofferson responded, “We do and we will.”
All who attended the meeting noted a feeling of brotherhood between President Cartes and the visiting church leaders, who left hopeful for strengthened relations and further opportunities to help and serve the Paraguayan people.
While in Paraguay, Elder Christofferson also called on Monsignor Pastor Cuquejo, Catholic Archbishop of Asunción. The two religious leaders met in Monsignor Cuquejo’s office in Asunción.
During the 30-minute meeting, the two men spoke of their common, faith-based interests, along with shared humanitarian projects between LDS Humanitarian Services and the Catholic charitable organization “Pastoral Social,” including a project to provide wheelchairs to disabled people in Paraguay.
The monsignor also announced, with a smile, that he was a fan of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Elder Christofferson presented the monsignor with a replica statue of the “Christus” Elder González, along with Elder Nicolas L. Di Giovanni, an Area Seventy, and Brother Gustavo Galeano also participated in the visit.