From Rome to Middle East to Jerusalem: Elder Bednar Travels Where Ancient Apostles Traveled

Contributed By Scott Taylor, Church News Managing Editor

  • 11 February 2019

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Susan Bednar pose for a photo at the excavated ruins of an ancient Byzantine-era synagogue in Capernaum, Israel, near the Sea of Galilee on January 27, 2019. Photo courtesy of Elder David A. Bednar.

“To have the responsibility to bear witness of Him, His divinity, His Resurrection, His living reality causes us to count our many blessings and reflect deeply on all we have been blessed to have received in this dispensation.” —Elder David A. Bednar

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stood in the urban grove of aged olive trees located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is called the Garden of Gethsemane, although the precise location of the New Testament’s same-named site of the Atonement of Jesus Christ remains uncertain but likely nearby.

“You are close to the location when time and eternity intersected in the Savior’s atoning sacrifice,” said Elder Bednar, recalling his first-ever visit to the Holy Land last month and the scriptural scenes of the Apostles Peter, James, and John accompanying Christ to the garden that night.

“When you are in a place very close to where Christ’s Atonement actually occurred, you try to imagine—but cannot totally—what that experience was like for Him,” said Elder Bednar, who also visited other historical and religious sites in the Old City and near the Sea of Galilee.

Less than two weeks earlier, he had been in Rome, joined by his fellow Apostle, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, in initiating the media and special-guest tours of the new Rome Italy Temple. (See related story.) During the nearly weeklong assignment there, the two visited the Mamertine Prison, believed to be the dungeon cells “where Peter and Paul were held captive for publicly declaring their witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Elder Bednar said.

And in the rotunda of the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center among the Christus and ancient Apostle statues, he pointed to Thorvaldsen’s statue of Peter that has two keys gripped in the right hand.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stands with Sister Susan A. Bednar in front of the Christus and Apostle statues in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center in Rome in mid-January, 2019. Photo courtesy of Elder David A. Bednar.

“Peter received from the Savior the keys of the kingdom,” Elder Bednar said, “and there is a mantle associated with the ordination. The apostleship is never about the men. It is about the office and the mantle.

“I love to read about Peter and Paul and their ministries in the New Testament,” he continued. “And the mantle they bore, that Elder Rasband and I have received, is real. For me, the bond with those ancient Apostles is in the majesty and powers of the mantle and in the spiritual witness of the reality of the Restoration in the latter days.”

The two locations—Rome and Jerusalem—served as fitting bookends for the modern-day Apostle’s 18-day assignment. Joined by his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, Elder Bednar went from Rome, with its history of influence, to Egypt and neighboring Middle East nations marked by the antiquity of the region’s early civilizations, and then on to the Holy Land.

“Consider the antiquity of Egypt and its impact on the world and on world culture, and then think of the Roman influence and of Jerusalem,” he said. “It is just a remarkable sequence of places to be and to learn.”

It was a learning experience for others as well, as Elder Bednar met with many in meetings while ministering to the one.

“To be in Jerusalem with an Apostle of the Lord is an experience that none of us will ever forget,” said Elder Wilford W. Andersen, a General Authority Seventy who with his wife, Sister Kathleen Andersen, accompanied the Bednars in the Middle East and Israel.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is joined by his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, at the pulpit during the Jerusalem District conference meeting in the BYU Jerusalem Center on Saturday, January 27. The Old City, including the Dome of the Rock, is seen in the background. Photo by Dennis Brimhall.

Between Rome and Jerusalem, the assignment’s itinerary—ranging from conferences and devotionals to humanitarian visits—included stops in the United Arab Emirates cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai; Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan; and Cairo, Egypt.

Church members in the Middle Eastern countries face unique and difficult challenges, Elder Andersen said, explaining that “Elder Bednar’s visit was a comforting reminder to them that Heavenly Father remembers and loves all His children. His teachings and his testimony warmed their hearts.”

In the UAE, Elder Bednar conducted a special meeting of the Abu Dhabi Stake as well as a meeting with youth and young adults ages 12 through 30. While geographically Abu Dhabi is a long distance from Salt Lake City, “the leadership and the Church are not a long way from Abu Dhabi,” he said. “There is a powerful message when we minister to them in their lands and in their homes.”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets attendees following a special meeting of members ages 12 through 30 of the Abu Dhabi Stake, held on Friday, January 18, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

Children from the African Hope Learning Centre in Cairo, Egypt, gather to greet Elder David A. Bednar, second from left, Sister Susan Bednar, fourth from right, and other guests on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

One humanitarian stop was at the African Hope Learning Centre in Cairo, Egypt, where LDS Charities has donated computers and other materials. For more than two decades, the school has helped educate impoverished children—up to nearly 500 annually—who have fled from Sudan and a dozen other African nations, often without one or both of their parents.

Another visit was at the Ashti IDP Camp—IDP standing for “internally displaced persons,” or refugees within one’s own country—in Iraqi Kurdistan, near the city of Erbil. LDS Charities partnered with the Barzani Charity Foundation to provide 750 large tents—250 at Ashti and another 500 at the Khazer refugee camp. The tents offered shelter and protection from the cold winter weather, with November flooding in the area damaging the previous refugee shelter.

Sister Susan Bednar, right, visits with youth at the Ashti refugee camp near Erbil, Kurdistan, on January 21, 2019. LDS Charities assisted in providing 750 tents in two refugee camps in the area. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

“We are all sons and daughters of God,” said Elder Bednar of the displaced refugees and their needs. “We help provide some of the assistance they need to survive in really difficult circumstances.”

In addition to visiting historical and religious sites in the Old City and around the Sea of Galilee, Elder Bednar presided over a conference of the Jerusalem District and a devotional at the BYU Jerusalem Center. The Bednars also hosted an impromptu gathering with students in the center’s cafeteria one evening.

Elder David A. Bendar, seated with folded arms to the left end of the table, holds an impromptu meeting with students in the cafeteria of the BYU Jerusalem Center during his visit there in late January 2019. Sister Susan Bednar is seated in front of him. Photo by Dennis Brimhall.

Jerusalem District President Dennis Brimhall, who joined the Bednars and Andersens and others in the small group touring the Old City and Galilee, said, “We were continually thinking about a living Apostle walking where the original Apostles walked and were taught—and to be mindful that the words of a living Apostle are just as important as those we read in the New Testament.”

President Brimhall reported that in addition to the large-scale gatherings of members and students, Elder Bednar found ways to minister to individuals during his stay. One such person was a sister, Margreta Spencer, who is the district’s longest-residing member in Israel and is confined to a nursing home in the Golan Heights, nearly three hours north of Jerusalem.

Elder Bednar video-recorded a message and blessing for her, President Brimhall said. The district president added that he’ll deliver it to her soon when he goes to do a temple-recommend interview with her.

The Apostle noted his affinity for having visited the areas of Capernaum and Tabgha off the shores of the Sea of Galilee—seeing the foundation of Peter’s home, visualizing the events of the New Testament in the area, and being mindful of the Savior’s teachings such as the Bread of Life sermon and the Sermon on the Mount.

“To have the responsibility to bear witness of Him, His divinity, His Resurrection, His living reality causes us to count our many blessings and reflect deeply on all we have been blessed to have received in this dispensation.”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Susan Bednar stand at the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee on January 27, 2019. Photo courtesy of Elder David A. Bednar.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Susan Bednar pose for a photo at the excavated ruins of an ancient Byzantine-era synagogue in Capernaum, Israel, near the Sea of Galilee on January 27, 2019. Photo courtesy of Elder David A. Bednar.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles answers a question during a press conference in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, January 14, 2019. Photo by Ravell Call, Deseret News.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Susan, walk from the Rome Italy Temple to the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, January 14, 2019. Behind them at right is President President Marcello De Vito, president of the Rome City Council. Photo by Ravell Call, Deseret News.

Elder David A. Bednar glances at a tent bearing the LDS Charities and Bargain Charity Foundation logos in the Ashti refugee camp near Erbil, Kurdistan. Elder Bendar was accompanied by, from left, Elder Wilford W. Andersen, a General Authority Seventy, and their wives, Sister Susan Bednar and Sister Kathleen Andersen. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

A sign in the Ashti refugee camp shows the cooperative efforts of LDS Charities and the Barzani Charity Foundation to provide tents and shelter in several refugee camps in Kurdistan. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

A young girl grins while greeting a group of visitors—including Elder David A. Bednar, Sister Susan Bednar, Elder Wllford W. Andersen, and Sister Kathleen Andersen—to the Ashti refugee camp near Erbil, Kurdistan, on January 21, 2019. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

A group of visitors—including Elder David A. Bednar, Sister Susan Bednar, Elder Wllford W. Andersen, and Sister Kathleen Andersen—are greeted by children at the Ashti refugee camp near Erbil, Kurdistan, on January 21, 2019. LDS Charities assisted in providing 750 tents in two refugee camps in the area. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, is the largest mosque in the country. Photo courtesy of Elder David A. Bednar.

Children from the African Hope Learning Centre in Cairo, Egypt, gather to greet Elder David A. Bednar, Sister Susan A. Bednar, and other visitors on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.

Children from the African Hope Learning Centre in Cairo, Egypt, gather to greet Elder David A. Bednar and other guests on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. Photo by Boyce Fitzgerald.