It’s Friday night. From Recife to Rio and from Salvador to São Paulo, the great megalopolises of Brazil teem with life as young people fill the streets, heading down beach boardwalks and downtown drives to outdoor festivals and markets, movies and shows, restaurants and clubs.
But in a certain corner of São Paulo—Brazil’s largest metropolis, with a population of 21 million—all the bustle of a big-city Friday night is forgotten as dozens of teenagers play a part in something most unusual.
They sit in small groups around a large, luminous building, occasionally checking their watches as they talk quietly into the night. They’re not staying up late to go to a dance club. They’re not lingering for the late show. They’re eagerly awaiting something of far greater significance, something their ancestors have also waited for: their assigned time to do baptisms for the dead in the São Paulo Brazil Temple.
Because this temple has been the only one in a nation of more than 700,000 Latter-day Saints, its doors have been open all night every Friday and until late Saturday in order to accommodate the busloads of Church members from outlying areas who are able to travel to the temple only on weekends. Upon their arrival, stakes are assigned times round the clock to do temple work.
According to former São Paulo temple president Aledir Barbour, handling such large numbers of temple goers “is now our greatest challenge because so many stakes want to come, but we cannot accommodate them all as we’d like.” He pauses, then smiles and adds, “But certainly it is a challenge we like to have.”
The white-haired, soft-spoken temple president cites the example of a group of youth and their leaders who traveled by bus from Belo Horizonte, a large city about 200 kilometers northeast of São Paulo. Youth from this stake brought with them the names of 10,000 ancestors, all of whom the teens had identified through their own research. The group stayed from Tuesday to Friday, but it wasn’t nearly enough time to perform the baptisms for all their ancestors.
The temple baptistry is so full of youth patrons, individuals can usually be baptized for only four or five deceased persons each time they come to the temple. And this is after many teens and their parents from outlying areas have saved for months to travel to the temple and have ridden on a bus for days to get to São Paulo.
When the São Paulo Temple was dedicated in 1978, it could handle the Church membership in Brazil, which then totaled less than 60,000. But membership in Brazil has increased more than tenfold since then, and for some time the temple has been consistently overflowing.
Fortunately, the rapid growth that has caused such a challenge is also a catalyst in bringing about wonderful change—change that is already beginning to bless the lives of Brazilian youth.
Peering through the rails of a fence, 17-year-old Fabio Fogliatto and his friends of the Canoas Brazil Stake watch intently as workers in hard hats construct a building near the southern tip of Brazil. Fabio notes with satisfaction that one of the workers leaves the construction site before smoking a cigarette. “He must know this is a sacred site for us,” Fabio says.
On the other side of the fence from the teens is a spectacular sight. Against the backdrop of the city, the walls of the Porto Alegre Brazil Temple rise out of the red earth.
“Just watching them build the temple, I can feel it really is a temple of the Lord,” says Ivan Carvalho, age 14, of the Esteio Ward. “It makes me feel even stronger that I want to come here to do ordinances for the dead and for myself.”
Fourteen-year-old Guilherme Recordon of the Estância Velha Ward adds, “And now that we have to go only 20 kilometers instead of 300, maybe we’ll be able to come here every week!”
The feelings of these boys represent a growing excitement all across Brazil as temples are built. Another temple is nearing completion in Campinas (a city just west of São Paulo), and yet another will be dedicated soon in the northern city of Recife. As the Church builds temples in Brazil, youth here are constructing their own temple-worthy lives.
Living worthy of going to the temple can be anything but easy for young Brazilians. They are teased by their peers if they don’t use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Extreme immodesty is common on billboards and prime-time television. Many students carry pornographic magazines to school. During carnaval, a weeklong festival Brazil is famous for, immodesty and immorality parade in the streets.
But Latter-day Saint youth say that looking to the temple helps them keep the commandments despite the many temptations and trials they face. “At school, when you won’t look at the [pornographic] magazines, people make fun of you. But I have a goal to serve a mission and marry in the temple, so I already know that if they push this stuff at me, I won’t do it,” says Fabio Marques, age 16, of the Campinas Fourth Ward, Campinas Brazil Stake. “I’ve already made my decision.”
Fabio says having a temple so close to his home in Campinas will strengthen him and his Latter-day Saint friends. “It’s hard to get to the temple in São Paulo, but soon we’ll be able to do baptisms for the dead more easily and frequently at the Campinas temple. And each time you do that, you make a stronger goal to return to the temple and to be worthy to marry in the temple.”
Whenever challenges seem too much for 18-year-old Janise Figueiró, she looks at a little bottle of red earth she received from her Young Women president in the Higienópolis Ward, Porto Alegre Brazil Moinhos de Vento Stake. “Whenever I look at that soil from the temple site, I remember to live worthy.”
Fourteen-year-old Juliano Garcia of the Guaiba Jardim Ward, Porto Alegre Moinhos de Vento stake, was thrilled with the prize he won. Although he had been a Church member for just under a year, he won a scripture chase in his multistake seminary bowl. As he began to look through the pages of his prize, a booklet entitled The Holy Temple by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he became fascinated with the pictures of temple baptismal fonts and celestial rooms. Juliano didn’t know much about the temple, but as he read in the booklet about baptism for the dead, his heart turned to his deceased grandparents. “I thought about my grandparents, how great they were, and I thought that more than anything I wanted to go to the temple for them.” Juliano hasn’t been able to travel to the São Paulo temple, but he is now preparing to go in Porto Alegre.
As Juliano and other Brazilian teens continue to construct their own temple-worthy lives little by little, they do not doubt that when the doors of the new temples are ready to open, they will be ready to enter.
When the angel Moroni appeared to 17-year-old Joseph Smith in 1823, he told the young prophet that Elijah the prophet would “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers” (JS—H 1:39).
This prophecy is literally being fulfilled in the hearts of young Brazilians. “The Spirit of Elijah is working … , especially on the young people, to do work for their ancestors. It’s something that we cannot explain,” says former São Paulo temple president Aledir Barbour.
For example 16-year-old Jeferson Montenegro of Canoas (pictured below) and Suelen Alexandre (age 15); José Meirelles (age 18); Priscila Cavalieri (age 18); Carlita Fochetto (age 14); and Carolina (age 16), Christiane (age 15), and Carlos Rodriguez (age 12) of São Paulo volunteer in their Family History Centers for 10 to 20 hours each week. They assist Church members in their research, enter extracted names into the computer system, and search for names of their own ancestors.
These teens aren’t unusual. Many Brazilian youth have found the names of hundreds of their ancestors and have eagerly begun their temple work. Why? “I feel the influence of the Spirit of Elijah,” says Jeferson. “It makes me feel a closeness with those who’ve gone before me.”