President Uchtdorf Dedicates Tijuana Mexico Temple
Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
“The Lord will bless you and guide you. Keep the commandments. Trust the Lord. Come to the temple and cherish these wonderful moments.” —President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, recently visited the “El Bordo” lighthouse in Mexico's Baja California. He was impressed by El Bordo's capacity to send guiding and protective light across both land and sea.
It prompted the Church leader to consider the divine and revealing light emitted by a dedicated temple—including the Church's 149th temple, the Tijuana Mexico Temple.
“This temple is a lighthouse,” he declared at the December 13 cornerstone ceremony held in conjunction with the temple dedication. “It is a wonderful place. It is a place of spiritual celebration. We have had in all of Mexico this weekend a wonderful spiritual celebration. And this temple is the reason.”
The Tijuana Temple—Mexico’s 13th—was dedicated in three session. Scores of members from northern Mexico attended the event inside the temple, while thousands more viewed the proceedings in meetinghouses across the country.
The past 17 years have marked historic and prolific temple building in Mexico. Dedicated houses of the Lord dot the map from Ciudad Juarez in the north to Tuxtla Gutierrez in Mexico's southernmost state.
But for many devout Latter-day Saints living near Mexico’s northern Pacific coast, the temple was so close, yet so far away. The San Diego California Temple is just a few miles north of this sprawling border city. But international travel restrictions have kept many here from making the short drive to San Diego.
“A temple in Tijuana is a great blessing for us,” said Inez Guzman as she waited to attend the second dedication session. “Before we had to travel to Hermosillo to attend the temple. It's an 8- to 10-hour drive, and it’s difficult to go. We always had to leave the day before.”
Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy serves in the Temple Department and participated in the December 13 dedication. Building a temple in Tijuana, he said, is evidence that the Lord knows and blesses those who follow His commandments.
“This is such a magnificently beautiful temple,” he said as dusk rested on the brightly lit edifice. “The faith and sacrifice of the people have been rewarded.
A temple built for Tijuana
The Tijuana Mexico Temple is distinctly Mexican. Built with the hacienda architectural elements of an old Spanish mission from a bygone century, the 33,367-square-foot temple anchors a 9.4-acre campus that includes administrative offices, a distribution center, a cafeteria, and other multi-use facilities.
Marble staircases, wooden doors, colorful tile work, stone floors, carved and textured glass, and crystal chandeliers are just a few of the many distinctive elements that complete the temple’s bright interior. Original paintings and murals capture the temple district’s arid, coastal landscapes.
Outside, the tile walkways, fountains, towering palms, and gardens filled with local flowers and shrubbery seem to entice folks of all backgrounds to linger a bit longer.
“Visitors can feel the holiness of the temple,” said Elder Wilson. “It is expressed in many ways—including the beauty of the grounds and the exterior and interior of the temple.
“You can’t step onto the grounds of the temple without feeling the Lord’s holiness. That is something that will not be felt anywhere as it is felt here.”
Latter-day Saints of all backgrounds experienced the peace and spiritual power felt inside and outside the Tijuana Mexico Temple. More than 70,000 people toured the edifice during the recent open house period. Members here shared stories of non-LDS friends and relatives who were moved to tears by the temple’s loveliness and family-centered purpose. Some who had felt antipathy for the Church prior to the open house left the temple grounds with new regard for the restored gospel and its doctrines.
In an interview with the Church News, Tijuana Mayor Jorge Astiazaran Orci said the new temple has forever changed his city.
“When someone speaks about Tijuana, they're going to speak about this beautiful [temple],” he said. “It really is a ‘must see’—it’s a living museum that beautifies this part of the city.”
Scores of Latter-day Saints gather December 13 for the dedication of the Tijuana Mexico Temple—the nation’s 13th temple. Photo by Jason Swensen.
Tijuana: A city of faith
For many living in the United States, Tijuana and the cities and towns of Mexico’s Pacific north coast are tourist destinations—vibrant border towns in which to spend a few days, enjoy some local seafood, and buy a few gifts.
But amid the tourism and noise, the Church in the Baja California region has witnessed growth in numbers and devotion. According to the Church’s website, the first missionaries arrived here from San Diego, California, in the 1940s. Local families formed a group that met for Sabbath services in a member’s home. On April 25, 1954, the Church organized its first congregation in Tijuana. The city’s first stake was formed 22 years later, with Carlos Mendez Zullik serving as its first president.
Bill Hurd of Clovis, California, was a missionary in Tijuana 43 years ago. His first mission trainer was Elder Benjamin De Hoyos, who now presides over the vast Mexico Area as a Seventy.
Brother Hurd fought back emotion as he stood outside the ivory white temple and acknowledged the Lord’s hand at work in Tijuana.
“Seeing how we went from five little branches back then to this—a temple—is just overwhelming.”
The Tijuana Mexico Temple will serve some 45,000 members living in Tijuana and the cities of Rosarito, Tecate, Mexicali, Ensenada, San Luis Rio Colorado Sonora, San Quintin, San Felipe, and Guerrero Negro.
A choir performs during the December 13 cornerstone ceremony outside the Tijuana Mexico Temple. Photo by Jason Swensen.
A place that’s “hard to leave”
Following the third and final dedicatory session, President Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, exited the temple. But they did not leave the grounds immediately. Instead, they spent several moments shaking hands, sharing embraces, and bidding farewell to many from the new temple district. At one point, President Uchtdorf dropped to his knees to visit with Manuel Lepe, a local member who suffers from advanced diabetes and uses a wheelchair. Leaning in, the Church leader whispered words of encouragement and love into Brother Lepe’s ear.
“I’m so grateful for the kind words that President Uchtdorf shared with my husband,” said his wife, Leticia Lepe. “His words touched our hearts because it helped me to remember that my husband and I will be together forever.”
The Church leader told the Church News that he and Sister Uchtdorf were uplifted by the strength, faith, humility, and kindness of the people they met and worshipped with during the dedicatory weekend.
“It’s hard to leave. Harriet and I wish we could stay longer,” he said. “It is so wonderful.”
Sister Utchdorf said the experience in Tijuana filled her heart. “It is full of joy for the people here who now have this beautiful temple—it has become one of my favorites.”
As Elder Wilson observed, the Tijuana Mexico Temple stands as physical and spiritual evidence that the Lord rewards faith and sacrifice.
Further rewards, declared President Uchtdorf, await all who come to this temple and follow the Lord.
“Go forward with your individual lives,” he said. “The Lord will bless you and guide you. Keep the commandments. Trust the Lord. Come to the temple and cherish these wonderful moments.”
Visiting General Authorities gather outside the Tijuana Mexico Temple. From left, Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, Elder Paul B. Pieper, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Benjamin De Hoyos, Bishop Dean M. Davies, and Elder Larry Y. Wilson. Photo by Jason Swensen.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf greets a baby girl following the December 13 dedication of the Tijuana Mexico Temple. Photo by Jason Swensen.