Steeped in tradition and sprinkled with sites where the Apostle Paul preached, the recently organized Europe/Mediterranean Area encompasses a variety of cultures and climates.
The area ranges from the lush, green meadows of French-speaking Belgium to the barren islands of Cape Verde. The 35 countries it encompasses range in size from massive Saudi Arabia to the tiny nations of Luxembourg, Andorra and Malta.The area was created this past summer from the Europe Area and includes North African and European countries bordering the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Headquarters are in Thoiry, France, a few miles from Geneva, Switzerland. Within the boundaries are 96,000 members of the Church, living in 18 stakes and 18 missions, with a combined non-member population of 450 million.
Elder Spencer J. Condie of the Seventy serves as area president. His counselors are Elder LeGrand R. Curtis and Elder Joseph C. Muren, also of the Seventy.
Included in the new area are countries where the Church is well-established, such as France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the French-speaking portions of Belgium and Switzerland. Also included are Greece and islands where the Church is relatively new, such as Cape Verde, the Azores, the Canary Islands, Cyprus, Malta and Medeira.
And even those areas considered more "well-established" are relatively young. France has five stakes with a sprinkling of third-generation members, according to the area presidency. Farther south - in Italy, Spain and Portugal - the Church has been established for 17-25 years. Italy has two stakes, Spain three, and Portugal, where the pace of missionary work has especially quickened in recent years, has five stakes. The faithful saints from Portugal spend 48 hours traveling by bus to the temple in Frankfurt, Germany, according to Elder Condie.
In countries around the Mediterranean rim, the Church has not yet been firmly established. There are, however, in many countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, small groups of members who are affiliated with foreign government offices or international business concerns. In Cairo, for example, there are nearly 150 expatriates, mostly Americans, who comprise a strong branch of the Church. Four other branches can be found in Turkey. In many other countries, members of the Church meet together in homes of members as small branches comprised of a few families.
On the northern coast of Morocco, there are two small branches in the Spanish enclaves of Cueta and Melilla. There are four missionaries from the Spain Seville Mission working in those two cities.
Within the area office in France, a dozen different nationalities are represented. Among the languages spoken are English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
The diversity of the area is reflected in the materials available to members and investigators. The Book of Mormon was translated into French and Italian in 1852. But in Farsi (Persian), Turkish and some other Mediterranean languages, materials have only very recently been published.
"The Europe/Mediterranean Area is one of great contrast and diversity, not at all monolithic," Elder Condie said. "Meeting facilities vary considerably. In France, the Church has some beautiful meetinghouses; in Spain, Portugal and Italy, free-standing chapels are rather scarce, with a predominance of rented facilities; and in some of the remaining countries, members meet in homes with permission of the local governments."
While most Church members living in the European portions of the area are natives, most of the Latter-day Saints within the remainder of the area are American expatriates working for a variety of international banks and businesses.
"We care as best we can for all of the scattered expatriates," Elder Condie added.
During a Church News interview with the area presidency, Elder Curtis, just before leaving for France, noted that occasionally expatriates in the Mediterranean region lose contact with the Church.
"Almost daily, someone finds out where we have been assigned and says, `I have a brother or a cousin who works there,' " Elder Curtis said. "Sometimes these people have lost touch with the Church. If that is the case for whatever reason, people can contact the area office or send a letter to the Europe/Mediterranean Area in care of Church headquarters. (50 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.) We would see that contact is re-established for those desiring it."
The three General Authorities are quick to point out that they view the diversity of the region as not just a challenge, but an exciting opportunity to cast forth the gospel net and gather "of every kind." (Matt. 13:47.)
"Our basic purpose, as in any other part of the world, is to build the kingdom and help move all of the wonderful people in this area closer to the Lord," Elder Muren said. "To help do that, we have a strong leadership core of 18 stake presidents, 18 mission presidents, four regional representatives, 36 district presidents and many other faithful priesthood and auxiliary leaders."
Added Elder Condie: "We need to work with local leaders to help more people receive the blessings of the temple, get more young men on missions and strengthen families. Leadership training on the local level is important, since many priesthood and auxiliary leaders are quite new in the Church.
"And we have a great need for missionary couples, including those who speak French, Spanish or Italian. We desperately need couples who can provide seasoned leadership to help move the work forward."
The presidency further discussed the missionary tradition in the region.
"We've found that the members of the Church in this area have a special warmth and a great love in their hearts," reflected Elder Condie. "The Mediterranean area has a rich missionary tradition, dating back to the Apostle Paul. Modern-day missionaries in Athens, Greece, recently cleaned Mars Hill, where Paul preached so eloquently, for a service project. There is a branch of the Church in Thessalonica, the city to which Paul addressed two of his epistles. Another great missionary, Lorenzo Snow, was one of the first to preach the restored gospel in northern Italy. It's an exciting area."
And excitement among members and non-members in the area is building toward two upcoming events that will cause much of the world to focus on the region: the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain; and the 1992 Expo in Seville, Spain, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America.
According to Elder Condie, the goal of the Europe/Mediterranean Area presidency is to help the wonderful people of this area make an even greater discovery: the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.