General Authorities Speak on Gospel Themes

Speaking at various recent events, several General Authorities shared their insights and feelings. Following are highlights from selected addresses.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“God hath made of one blood all the nations of the world,” said Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at a dinner and reception held 17 March in New York City to highlight Brigham Young University’s Islamic Translation Series. “While we are not of one belief system, we need to remember our ultimate genealogy.”

Also attending were Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy, president of Brigham Young University, and Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy, a member of the North America Northeast Area Presidency. Guests included United Nations ambassadors, high-ranking members of the U.N. Secretariat, consuls general, and other diplomats from 35 Islamic nations in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the South Pacific, and Africa.

In his remarks, Elder Maxwell said: “God is the source of light in heaven and on earth. We share that belief with you. We resist the secular world. We believe with you that life has meaning and purpose. We believe that there are those who remember God and those who do not. We are anxious that people remember God.” He also said, “We salute you for your concern for the institution of the family.”

The Islamic Translation Series, sponsored and managed by BYU’s Center for the Preservation of Ancient Texts, is making many important classic Islamic philosophical writings available.

Elder John K. Carmack

Speaking on 20 March at a Brigham Young University symposium titled “Brigham Young: Images and Realities,” Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy said: “The comparable image I see is that of Father Abraham. Yes, the exodus from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake was vital and exciting and the comparison with Moses apt. We, like the Jews have done with the exodus from Egypt, look back on that great event with pride. But the portrait of President Young that strikes me as being the full and memorable one is that of a great patriarch, a father, presiding and directing the work of establishing a people and gospel doctrines in the mountains and valleys that became their Western Canaan.”

Abraham, Elder Carmack observed, found himself in peril in his homeland, Ur of the Chaldees, and took his family and followers to a land prepared for them by the Lord. Similarly, “President Young and the Saints found themselves in peril in Illinois. The Lord Jehovah guided them to a place far away from the nation that had rejected them and whose mobs, unchecked by rule of law or Constitution, threatened their destruction. Even the valley of the Great Salt Lake must surely have been reminiscent of Canaan with its Salt Sea.”

Continuing his thoughts on how President Young fits the Abrahamic pattern, Elder Carmack said: “Jehovah could ask nothing that Abraham would not do, even being willing to sacrifice his heir and only son through Sarah. With similar complete faith in Jehovah, President Young reflected on what he and the Saints had done: ‘I can say, truly and honestly, that the thought never came into my mind, in all my labors, what my reward will be, or whether my crown would be large or small, or any crown at all, a small possession, a large possession, or no possession.

“‘… All that I have had in my mind has been that it was my duty to do the will of God, and to labor to establish his Kingdom on the earth’” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 452).

Elder Bruce C. Hafen

In his remarks at a recent convention of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Therapists, Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy, a counselor in the Australia/New Zealand Area Presidency, discussed how modern society has “lost the plot” about marriage and strayed from proper roles for husbands and wives. The theme of the convention was “Stemming the Tide of Divorce.”

Elder Hafen said that marriage partners need to think “more deeply” about the nature of marriage and whether they are in a covenant relationship or merely a contract arrangement. A contract marriage, he said, is based upon an expectation of happiness, an expectation of a union free of trouble. Such couples “marry to obtain benefits, and they’ll stay as long as they are receiving the benefits they bargained for.” They walk away “when the wolves of adversity come.”

Couples in covenant marriages, on the other hand, learn to shoulder all burdens. “When troubles come to a covenant people, they work through them,” Elder Hafen said. “They do it as a couple.”

Elder Alexander B. Morrison

“It is cheap benevolence to want to help poor people but not to be willing to get to know them,” said Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, President of the Utah North Area, at a recent two-day conference exploring the theme of “Investing in the Poor.”

In his remarks, Elder Morrison described an innovative Church pilot program currently under way in 15 inner-city stakes to assist the needy. Three kinds of helpers are participating: Church-service workers who are called by bishops to work nonjudgmentally with needy families and help them learn how to get out of poverty; community volunteers who are carrying out projects such as helping tutor in inner-city schools; and various specialists—including auto mechanics, attorneys, repairmen, and counselors—who are donating work or charging a reduced price to the needy.

“As more people become aware of the needs, spontaneous acts of kindness are sprouting up,” Elder Morrison said. He added that helping the needy requires patience and a willingness to share kindness and that volunteers grow spiritually as they help. In the pilot program, more than 2,000 people are being assisted.

[photo] Elder Neal A. Maxwell greets Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, with Elder Merrill J. Bateman and his wife, Marilyn, observing. (Photo by John Moe.)

Bishop H. David Burton

Conversation: Caring for Church Meetinghouses

In a recent letter to Church leaders, the First Presidency called for “members to assume a greater responsibility for cleaning and caring for Church meetinghouses.” In particular, the letter stated that “Aaronic Priesthood quorums should play a prominent role in fulfilling this responsibility. They may be assisted by young women of corresponding ages.” To learn more about the Church’s emphasis on members caring for meetinghouses, the Ensign spoke with Bishop H. David Burton, Presiding Bishop.

Bishop H. David Burton

Bishop H. David Burton

Question: What is some of the thinking behind the request for members to help care for meetinghouses?

Response: The same opportunities to sacrifice for the kingdom do not exist today as they once did. There was a time in the Church not too many years ago when members donated funds above and beyond tithing and fast offerings to help operate their local wards and stakes, including the costs of maintaining buildings and providing electricity, water, and telephones. More recently, through the faithfulness of members across the world, the Church has been in a position to fund those kinds of expenses at the local level. But as that has occurred, some members—particularly youth—have lost respect and appreciation for Church buildings. Today it is often easy for us to slip over to our meetinghouses and treat them as any other ordinary building that we may enter during the week.

Basically, the meetinghouse care program is simple. Members of the Church are invited to participate in the cleaning of their buildings in such a way that, by their sacrifice, they will come to honor and respect and love these beautiful houses of worship. The most important thing to understand is that this program was not primarily instituted to save money. This is a program to develop personal character and receive eternal blessings. Those priesthood leaders who teach their people that this is an opportunity to sacrifice and build the kingdom will find success in their efforts.

Q: How can adults and youth help care for meetinghouses?

R: Member involvement in the care of Church meetinghouses is organized under the direction of stake presidents, who are assisted by stake physical facilities representatives. Assignments to local members are made by ward bishoprics. Some marvelous creative thinking has been going on among leaders, and we have heard about inventive ways families and youth groups are helping. President John Taylor said, “It is … the special duty of the Aaronic priesthood to attend to temporal matters” and to “take care of the properties of the church” (The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham [1943], 155, 170). Where members and leaders have caught the spirit of it, reverence for their building has really started to improve.

Weekly tasks that Aaronic Priesthood members and young women may be assigned include vacuuming the chapel, classrooms, corridors, and foyers; cleaning rest room floors, wiping counters, and replacing paper products; cleaning chalkboards, drinking fountains, and kitchen areas; sweeping the cultural hall floor, platform area, and exterior entrance walks; picking up debris between meetings; emptying trash and relining wastebaskets; setting up and putting away chairs and tables; securing the building after meetings by closing windows and turning off lights; cleaning and repairing hymnbooks, folding chairs, and sacrament trays; cleaning grounds, parking lots, landscaped areas, and adjacent Church-owned property; planting, weeding, and caring for flower beds; and removing snow from sidewalks as needed. When possible, work should be done after regularly scheduled meetings and as part of ongoing youth activities.

Tasks that adult members may be assigned include assisting youth in their tasks as desirable or required, cleaning up after activities they are involved in, locking up the building when it is not in use, and operating mechanical equipment. Working closely with youth, leaders should use this opportunity to teach them principles of sacrifice, service, respect for property, and standards of cleanliness.

While members have the primary responsibility, facilities management personnel will enter meetinghouses once a week to perform the more difficult maintenance responsibilities, such as refinishing cultural hall floors, cleaning the grouting in rest rooms, and shampooing carpets. They will also maintain the equipment used by members and stock the cleaning supplies necessary for members to perform their roles.

Q: It seems that the aspirations for this program are quite noble.

R: Yes. When you think about it, next to your home and the temple, where do the important events of life take place? The meetinghouse is a center of spiritual and social activities for our families. Here we worship the Savior every week. Here we partake of the sacrament and remember His atoning sacrifice. Here we listen to and learn the doctrines of the kingdom. Here we bless our children. As the First Presidency said, by helping care for meetinghouses members “can deepen their reverence and feelings of respect for the house of the Lord.”

[photo] Through the meetinghouse care program, Church members assume a great role in the cleaning of their buildings. (Photo by John Luke.)

[photo] To help care for their local meetinghouses, youth may be assigned a variety of weekly tasks, such as cleaning the chapel. (Photo by John Luke.)

[photo] A young man washes a meetinghouse glass door. (Photo by John Luke.)

Shooting Incident at Family History Library

Just before 10:30 A.M. on Thursday, 15 April 1999, a mentally unstable 71-year-old gunman opened fire inside the Church’s main Family History Library™ located across the street from Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Killed were 62-year-old security guard Donald Thomas of West Jordan, Utah, and 55-year-old library patron Patricia Irene Frengs of Pleasant Hills, California; three other people and one police officer were injured. The gunman was killed during a standoff with police.

The First Presidency issued the following statement: “We are saddened by the terrible tragedy which occurred at our Family History Library this morning, in which three people were killed, including an employee of the Church. It is incomprehensible that innocent people pursuing a peaceful pastime of tracing their family history could be the victims of such a senseless attack as we have seen today. We extend our love and blessings to all who have suffered by reason of these sad and disturbing events and express deep regret over such tragic circumstances. Our hearts reach out in sorrow to the innocent victims of this tragedy and their families.”

Making the Most of Church Historic Sites and Visitors’ Centers

Speakers at the annual seminar for directors of Church visitors’ centers and historic sites included Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy, who serves as executive director of the Missionary Department, and Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy, who serves as executive director of the Historical Department. Highlights of their remarks are followed by a list of Church historic sites and visitors’ centers.

Elder Earl C. Tingey said, “In the last two years there have probably been more directions and policies on missionary work … from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve than in almost any span of time before then.”

He continued, “This is the result of a challenge from President Hinckley to all members of the Church to work to make a major change in the retention of new converts.”

Elder Tingey said that visitors’ centers and historic sites can be “an integral part of the process that results in converts.” Noting that family history computers are now installed at visitors’ centers and historical sites, he said, “In a visitors’ center, with the Christus in the background and after a film on the family has been shown, the visitors enter the name of an ancestor in a computer, and in an instant it can pull up a pedigree chart or a list of names. Can you imagine what that will do? The proclamation on the family, the doctrine of eternal life, the purpose of temples will all fall into place.”

At another time, Elder John K. Carmack said, “The message, the faith and courage, the doctrine, the events, the geographical places, the artifacts—they are all part of the story of the Restoration.”

He continued, “These things happened in real places, in the near past. Places and things still exist that remind us of these foundational things that let us see and feel. And the Spirit is still there; thus visitors can personally experience these sacred events and strengthen their testimonies of the Restoration in profound and sensory ways.” He continued: “It seems like these places have been preserved. Why? So that we can reach out and touch them and feel the spirit of the Restoration of the gospel.”

Sites and Centers

Church visitors’ centers and historical sites with missionary staffs include, in order of historical chronology:

Joseph Smith Memorial, Sharon, Vermont

Joseph Smith Sr. Farm, Manchester Township, New York

Sacred Grove, Manchester Township, New York

Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center, Manchester Township, New York

Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site, Palmyra, New York

Peter Whitmer Farm, Fayette Township, New York

Newel K. Whitney Store and Home, Kirtland, Ohio

John Johnson Farmhouse, Hiram, Ohio

Independence Visitors’ Center, Missouri

Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri

Nauvoo Historic District and Visitors’ Center, Nauvoo, Illinois

Carthage Jail, Carthage, Illinois

Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, Omaha, Nebraska

Temple Square, Salt Lake City

San Diego Mormon Battalion Visitors’ Center, California

Mormon Handcart Visitors’ Center, Alcova, Wyoming

Beehive House, Salt Lake City

Jacob Hamblin Home, Santa Clara, Utah

Cove Fort, Utah

Brigham Young Winter Home, St. George, Utah

St. George Tabernacle, St. George, Utah

In addition, visitors’ centers are located near Church temples in Mesa, Arizona; Laie, Hawaii; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Mexico City, Mexico; Hamilton, New Zealand; St. George, Utah; and Washington, D.C. Several other historical sites are owned and maintained by the Church but not staffed.

[photo] A replica of a pioneer log home is on display at the Independence Visitors’ Center, Missouri. (Photo by Timothy L. Taggart.)

Italy: A Foundation in Faith

For centuries, the beautiful countryside of central Italy has inspired artists, writers, musicians, and poets. As far as the eye can see, rolling hills and fields are adorned with vineyards, umbrella pines, and cypress and olive trees. The gospel of Jesus Christ has likewise inspired many hundreds of steadfast people in this beautiful region who have joined the Church since Italy was rededicated for the preaching of the gospel in 1966 by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

An indication of that growth was made evident in 1994 when the Florence Italy District, located midway between Rome and Milan and extending from coast to coast through the central part of Italy, was divided into three separate districts—Pisa, Florence, and Rimini. These three districts have a combined total of 16 branches and 1,682 members of the Church. From among these pioneers have come many stalwart members. Their faith adds to the unique beauty of this part of the world.

When Roberto Asioli, second counselor in the Italy Padova Mission, first met the missionaries, he was a discouraged young man working through a sad time in his life. His wife, Loretta, had just lost a baby and was in the hospital.

Roberto was home alone when a knock came at his door. He saw two missionaries standing there, but he felt so low that he did not open the door. At the same time the next evening, a knock came at his door again. “This time I opened the door and invited the missionaries to come in,” he recalls. “We started to talk, and I felt their spirit immediately. It was not difficult for me to receive their testimony—it was the right time for me to hear the gospel message.”

As he learned more about the gospel, Roberto wanted to share his feelings with his wife and tell her of his wish to be baptized. She was not interested. Disappointed, Roberto worried about being baptized without his wife. He prayed for Loretta to recognize the same spirit and happiness he had found, and he considered postponing his baptism.

“When I spoke to the elders about my concern for my wife, they gave me a blessing and a promise from the Lord,” says Roberto. “They said, ‘If you will be baptized, you will show your faith to the Lord, and He will never leave you alone. You will convert your wife.’”

Twenty days after the elders knocked on his door, Roberto was baptized. He was one of the first members of the Church in Rimini. He decided to be an example for his wife and give all his energy to living the gospel as he should.

And Loretta watched. She watched as he woke early on cold Sunday mornings and went to church on his motorbike, never trying to force her to accompany him. She watched as he studied his scriptures. And she watched as he prayed alone by his bedside each night.

And they talked. Their conversations were not at first about the gospel; they talked about their life, about their marriage. Loretta remembers, “I realized that the Church and the message of the gospel were very important to Roberto. I realized that I couldn’t stay indifferent to this—I am his wife! I had to learn more about the gospel, so I started reading the Book of Mormon.” Roberto baptized Loretta only two months after his own baptism.

When Roberto Asioli became the branch president 17 years ago, there were only 10 people in the Rimini Branch—now there are more than 95 members.

Alberto Sottili, president of the Firenze Second Branch, Florence Italy District, is a silver craftsman. He recognizes and treasures beautiful things. Each day in his shop in Florence, Italy, he creates jewelry—lovely necklaces, earrings, and brooches. “My shop is very simple—it is really just a laboratory,” he says. “I always wanted to be a musician, but I didn’t have enough money. So when I was 14, I worked in the summer and began learning to make gold jewelry.”

Three years later, at a time when his life seemed very unsettled and he was searching for direction, Alberto heard about something that brought peace and beauty to him. “God loves you,” said a relative who was a member of the Church. Alberto was so impressed by this simple statement that he consented to kneel and pray with him. “I felt an incredible peace inside after our prayer, and I felt that I should learn more about this church.”

When the elders began teaching the gospel to Alberto in 1972, they spoke to him about the purpose of life. “As I listened, I was touched by the fact that the ideas the missionaries were explaining to me were already familiar,” he recalls. One month later, Alberto was baptized.

Today—24 years later—Alberto’s life is still surrounded by beauty. For many years, he was a single parent to his two older daughters, Simona and Silvie. When they were 12 and 11 years old, he met a woman he soon married, Maria Teresa. They were sealed in the Swiss Temple and now have two more lovely daughters, Sara, 10, and Denise Gloria, 5. The older girls, now 23 and 22, have strong testimonies of the gospel. Simona reflects: “Thanks to the gospel, I am the person that I am. The gospel influences me each day of my life. Even though sometimes it is hard, I feel that the gospel brings me strength and freedom.”

Silvie, a student of painting and sculpture, says: “I am so thankful for my father—it is because of him that I was able to join the Church. … To me, the gospel is strength and help and everything in my life. The most important thing I know is that God loves me and listens to me.”

In Florence, Italy, a city renowned for beautiful treasures, Alberto Sottili talks of his own priceless treasures: “I think that everything good is from God. To keep our family together, we have to work, to pray, to have family home evening.”

Maria Teresa agrees: “I can’t imagine my life without the gospel. The gospel is my life!”

Like the Asiolis and the Sottilis, hundreds of other Italian pioneers in central Italy bear testimony of the beauty and joy the gospel has brought into their lives. Brother Massimo Lo Monaco of the Pisa Branch summarizes the feelings of other Latter-day Saints:

“We feel that our family is better prepared than our nonmember friends to face the economic, political, and social challenges that we may encounter. We have a precious gift—we have the gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches us principles of honesty and righteousness. We uphold the law, we pay our tithes and offerings, and we do what the Church leaders advise us to do. We know that we will be blessed in all things when we follow the commandments of God.”

[photo] A picturesque view of San Marino. Covering only 24 square miles (61 sq. km.), San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world and is part of the Rimini Italy District.

[photo] The Asioli family: Alice, Loretta, Thomas, Roberto, and Matteo. Roberto and Loretta were baptized when there were only a few members in Rimini.

[photo] Il Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) in Florence, Italy. During the Renaissance many great painters, sculptors, and writers lived and worked in this beautiful city.

[photo] Maria Teresa and Alberto Sottili of Florence with their two youngest daughters, Denise Gloria (center) and Sara.

DeAnne Walker is serving as a missionary with her husband in the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission.

Policies, Announcements, and Appointments

Keeping Children Close to the Church

The First Presidency sent the following letter to be read aloud in sacrament meetings and delivered by home teachers throughout the Church:

All about us we see evidence of the corrosive elements targeted to injure our youth. We compliment most warmly those of our young people who choose to follow the way of the Lord and the program of the Church. We are pleased to note that faith is increasing among our youth, for which we are deeply grateful.

Unfortunately, there are some who fall into the adversary’s net and drift into inactivity and trouble. We are deeply concerned with these.

We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.

We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.

We urge bishops and other Church officers to do all they can to assist parents in seeing that they have time and help, where needed, as they nurture their families and bring them up in the way of the Lord. Wherever possible, Sunday meetings, other than those under the three-hour schedule and perhaps council meetings on early Sunday mornings or firesides later in the evening, should be avoided so that parents may be with their children. As we strengthen families, we will strengthen the entire Church.

Book of Mormon Available in Haitian and Romanian

The First Presidency has announced the publication of selections from the Book of Mormon in Haitian and of a complete edition of the Book of Mormon in Romanian (selections in Romanian have been available since 1981). Copies of these volumes may be purchased at local Church distribution centers or ordered through ward and branch leaders.


Jeremiah P. Cahill of the Lincoln Heights Ward, Salt Lake Granite Park Stake, has been called as president of the new Bogotá Colombia Temple. His wife, Lela B. Jackson Cahill, will serve as temple matron.

Dan Jay Workman of the Park First Ward, Orem Utah Park Stake, is serving as president of the Vernal Utah Temple. His wife, Lola Barbara Gibbons Workman, serves as temple matron.

Web Site Being Tested

The Church recently began a public test of a new Internet genealogical service located at The developmental test is open to anyone with Internet access; no password or clearance is needed. Due to test requirements, the site may be unavailable at times or experience slow responses.

Depending on test results, the Church’s full Internet genealogical service may be launched this spring or summer. Detailed explanations of the Web site’s various elements and databases will be made available at that time.

[New Musical Work]

[photo] During April 1999 a new sacred musical work titled Come Unto Christ: The Conversion of Alma the Younger was performed in Idaho and Utah by the Ricks College Symphony Orchestra, Collegiate Singers, and Concert Chorale, joined for selected performances by LDS institute choirs and the Ricks College Men’s and Women’s Choirs. The work, composed by Merrill Jenson, is the fourth in a series of sacred works commissioned by Church-owned Ricks College of Rexburg, Idaho. (Photo by Michael Lewis.)