Elder Christofferson Fulfills Historic Assignments in Europe
Contributed By By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
Being a Latter-day Saint in Greece is not easy. Members there endure persecution and discrimination. Some have lost jobs because of their faith. Others have been expelled from school.
Still, the small collection of members that call Greece home has remained faithful. They persevere amid their hardships.
That was the observation of Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Church leader visited and counseled with members and missionaries in Greece during his recent European travel assignment (March 13–24) that included stops in four nations—England, Belgium, Cyprus, and Greece.
Elder Christofferson, who was accompanied by his wife, Sister Katherine Christofferson, fulfilled a number of assignments, including dedicating a new young single adult building in Manchester, England, and overseeing the inauguration of the Church’s new European Union office in Brussels, Belgium.
The Apostle began his travels in northeast England on March 16, where he presided over the Sunderland England Stake conference.
In the early days of the Church, English converts made their way across the Atlantic to settle with the Saints in Nauvoo or Utah. Today’s members remain in England, building Zion in their own land.
“I was pleased to see so many young families and a vibrant stake in Sunderland,” said Elder Christofferson.
Later that day he dedicated a newly built five-story young single adult building in the English city of Manchester. The multiuse building, which doubles as an institute, will be used by young members and their friends to worship, learn, and enjoy time together. Several universities operate in Manchester. The Church’s new building is expected to be a gathering place for young men and young women of all backgrounds.
“It is a place of refuge and peace and renewal for students and other young adults from the hectic and sometimes challenging university environment,” he said.
Some 570 people attended the dedication, including more than 200 nonmember guests.
Elder Christofferson then traveled to Brussels, Belgium, to initiate and inaugurate the Church’s new European Union office.
A full-time employee and a missionary couple will staff the EU office. It will be used to monitor what is happening with the EU “and will be our interface with different agencies there for whatever interaction, contribution, or other activity we might have.”
Elder Christofferson, along with Europe Area President José A Teixeira, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy; Frerich Görtz, the Church’s official representative to the EU; and Francesco Di Lillo, director of the Church’s EU office, also met March 18 with Mrs. Katharina von Schnurbein, an advisor to the EU Commission President for churches, religious associations, and communities.
“We want to be abreast of all that’s happening [in the EU] and be able to have input when we feel it’s important to have our voice heard.”
To celebrate the new office, the Church also hosted an inaugural dinner that included a diverse guest list of diplomats, clergy, and administrators from various faiths that work closely with the European Union.
Counted among the guests were Mrs. von Schnurbein; Baroness Chris and Baron Frans van Daele, chief of staff to the king of Belgium; Father Patrick Daly, general secretary, Commission of the Episcopates of the European Community; and Mr. Phil Carmel, director of interfaith relations, European Jewish Congress European Office.
In his remarks at the event, Elder Christofferson spoke of the Church’s history, including its periods of persecution and hardship “that give us a particular appreciation for and commitment to faith, family, and freedom of religion.”
Elder Christofferson’s visit to Brussels included a meeting with missionaries serving in the region. He left impressed with their tenacity and dedication to their callings.
Meeting with the Greek members was one of the trip’s many highlights. About 150 members attended the March 21 gathering in Athens, including a busload from Thessaloniki who traveled six hours from the north.
“These members endure significant opposition,” said Elder Christofferson. “It’s very hard to join and be active.”
Despite their struggles, he said, the Greek members and missionaries remain positive and upbeat. “I was proud of them for what they are doing and how they are persevering.”
It’s been several years since a member of the Twelve visited Greece, and the Church there remains small. But Elder Christofferson assured the Greek Latter-day Saints that they are not alone.
“I wanted them to understand that my physical presence [in Greece] was a message that they are not forgotten,” he said. “They are not strangers to us at headquarters. We don’t forget that they are there. They are in our minds and in our prayers.”
While in Greece, the Christoffersons and a small group of members also visited the Acropolis and Mars Hill. It was at Mars Hill that Paul—Elder Christofferson’s ancient apostolic predecessor—preached about the Resurrection, as recorded in the 17th chapter of Acts.
“That gave me a chance to bear testimony of the Resurrection on the same spot where Paul had done that,” he said. “It was a uniquely special time.”
The Christoffersons concluded their European trip with a March 22–23 visit to the island nation of Cyprus.
Cyprus was once a land of refuge for persecuted Saints in the ancient Church. Today, the restored Church offers a spiritual refuge for the small group of members who belong to the country’s single Church district.
Elder Christofferson met there with missionaries and members from the Nicosia Cyprus District, where he offered counsel and support.