City of Light

In Paris, France, teenage Latter-day Saints give new meaning to an old nickname.

People aren’t the only ones with nicknames. Many cities have them, too. Chicago is the Windy City, New York is the Big Apple, Rome is the Eternal City, and so on.

For Paris, France, the name is the City of Light. One legend says that Paris, anciently a walled city, used to place torches around its fortifications and along highways leading to its main gates. These welcoming fires chased away darkness and let travelers know they were nearing safety. Over the centuries, City of Light also became a reference to the role Paris played as a center of culture and education. Today, some say the nickname is simply derived from the effect of floodlights illuminating the city’s magnificent palaces and monuments at night.

Adding meaning

Teenage Latter-day Saints who live in Paris might add yet another meaning to the name. As they learn the truth and live by it, they are establishing their own beacon in the City of Light, a shining example for the honest in heart to see. That is the main topic of discussion as a small group of young men, a young woman, and some adult leaders from the Paris France Stake meet on a windy morning at the Arc de Triomphe for a walk to the Eiffel Tower. They speak about the Aaronic Priesthood, about the blessings young women can receive in the Church, and about the role French youth must play in helping others find the way, the truth, and the light.

“To have the Aaronic Priesthood is a great responsibility,” says Peter Caplain, 18. “It means you have already promised to keep all of the commandments. You have agreed to set a good example and to act in the name of God, whether you’re a priest performing a baptism or a deacon distributing the sacrament bread and water.”

A common goal

Paris is a metropolis of millions. “But even in a huge city like this,” Peter explains, “we can make a difference, because we have the Aaronic Priesthood. As brothers we all have a common goal, to grow spiritually and to arrive at our eternal salvation.”

But that’s not all. “We have the responsibility to serve others,” explains Guillaume Gaba, 15. “We are to do for them what Jesus Christ would do. When I do something good for someone else, I feel content. Each time, it gives me the desire to do it again, to feel that same feeling over and over. To be happy inside is a wonderful thing. Others may not understand it completely, but you, yourself, you understand.”

Elvin N. Soni, 18, agrees. “To receive the Aaronic Priesthood is to receive the power of the Lord, the power to act in his name. He has put us on earth so that we can be of service to others.”

And that, Elvin says, involves temporal duties as well as attitude. “You make sure the sacrament is properly prepared and passed, you make sure that the chapel is completely clean, and you try to help everyone to be reverent. You welcome each new person to church without rejecting anyone. You try to help each one feel that they are an important person, a son or a daughter of God. You take good care of everyone in the Church, and help them all and encourage them all to take care of each other.”

Truly brothers

Marceau Laval, 12, who has been a deacon in the St. Ouen Ward for seven months, explains additional Aaronic Priesthood duties: “In our ward, we’re in charge of welcoming people to church on Sundays. We are messengers for the bishop and should be prepared to do all he asks us to do. We help the clerks count the attendance, and we call and check on people who don’t attend, to see if they were sick or having problems, to announce activities to them, and to encourage them to come next time.”

Loic Gomes, 13, is the deacons quorum president of the Antony Ward. He says what he likes about the Aaronic Priesthood is that “we are truly brothers.”

“We help each other out,” he explains. “If one of us has a problem, the others come to his aid.” In a deacons quorum with two active members and one less-active member, that means the teachers and the priests help out a lot. “The priesthood isn’t just something we say,” Loic adds. “It’s something we live.”

And that includes a lot of effort to reach that one deacon who hasn’t been attending meetings. “He used to come, but I don’t know what happened,” Loic explains. “So we write letters, we visit him, we let him know we care. We hope he’ll be back with us soon.”

Sisters are sharing

Francine Petelo, 18, a Laurel in the Antony Ward, listens to the young men talk and she smiles. “You can tell they have the power of God in them,” she says. “It can make a great difference in their lives. They don’t act the same as other young men. They have the highest principles.”

And what about young women in the ward? “We are daughters of God,” Francine continues. “Knowing that also changes a lot in your perspective and understanding. We share fully in the blessings of the priesthood. Having the priesthood in your family can make a big difference. To be married in the temple, that is also done by the power of the priesthood. That’s one of my main goals.”

Martine Petelo is Francine’s older sister. She is also the ward Young Women president.

“Many of the youth here don’t have families that support them, families that bring them to church,” Martine says. “But they come anyway. They make many efforts by themselves. They have learned to stand firm with their own testimonies. They love the Church, they always go to stake conferences and youth conferences, they are always very enthusiastic. By themselves they come up with ideas and do activities. They don’t always have to be entertained; they take care of themselves. And they remain very strong, even in Paris where there is so much temptation.”

Finding the light

In short, even in the City of Light, one must learn to shun the shadows of sin. For those who do, the gospel light is bright and warm and welcoming. Like the torches on the ancient walls of Paris, it will chase away the darkness and let you know you are in a place of safety, where the pure in heart dwell.

There is a name for that place too. It is called Zion.

[photos] Photography by Richard M. Romney

[photos] For centuries, Paris has been known as a beacon for those seeking educational and cultural enlightenment. For young Latter-day Saints who live there today, like Francine Petelo and Peter Caplain (previous page) and Elvin N. Soni, Marceau Laval, Guillaume Gaba, and Loic Gomes, Paris is also a place to find the light of gospel truth.