Temple grounds aglow for holidays

Peace was in the air when Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve and Israel Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich turned on nearly 300,000 lights at the Washington Temple Visitors Center Dec. 1, as part of the ceremonies at the 16th annual Festival of Lights.

Taking his theme from Isaiah 9:7, "Peace there shall be no end . . . with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever," Elder Faust said that before peace among nations could be accomplished, there must be peace in the hearts and souls of all of us."We need to recognize the needs and concerns of others and respect them," said Elder Faust. "Christmas is a good time; it makes us rise above ourselves. It is a time to make peace and a time to think of others. Let us have the spirit of giving."

Ambassador Rabinovich, who serves as Israel's chief negotiator with Syria in the peace talks, continued the theme of peace in his remarks.

He said: "We recognize our differences and respect each other. . . . Let this be an example and a pattern for the whole world. This is the only basis for peace. Let the lights we illuminated tonight be a symbol of peace as well."

The lighting ceremony, which featured Metropolitan Opera star Ariel Bybee and the Mormon Choir of Washington, is a goodwill-building tool for the Church and the diplomatic community in Washington, D.C.

Also attending the ceremony, in addition to Israel's ambassador, were ambassadors from 16 other countries including Antigua and Barbuda, Belarus, Cape Verde, Estonia, Fiji, Guatemala, Ireland, Malta, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, St. Vincent and Granadines, Switzerland and Uzbekistan. Countries with other diplomats attending included Hungary, China, Croatia, Israel, Cyrpus, Mongolia and Poland. The mayor of Kensington, Md., also attended the ceremony; the temple is Kensington's most recognizable landmark.

Israel TV filmed the ceremony to be replayed in Israel later this month. Also covering the event were local, national and international media that included Portuguese News, Hungarian News, Associated Press, Fox, CBS, ABC radio network, the Connection newspapers, the Journal newspapers and The Washington Times.

Several high-profile members of the Church were on hand as well, including: Kresimir Cosic, deputy chief of mission for the embassy of Croatia; Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah; Rep. Wally Herger of California; Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma; Rep. Bill Orton of Utah; former congressman David King; and J.W. Marriott Jr.

The lighting ceremony also featured guest artists Neylan McBaine, who is Ariel Bybee's daughter, (piano) and Linda Eyre (violin).

The Festival of Lights, which was featured in the December issue of Southern Living magazine, is a Christmas tradition for many Washington, D.C., area residents. Last year, more than 116,000 people enjoyed the lights, decorations, music and Nativity scenes.

The month-long festival continues its 16-year tradition of celebrating the birth of Christ with performances from interfaith, school and community groups such as The Ukrainian National Choir, the Gaithersburg Chinese Chorus, Voices of a New Day, the Gloucester Bell Ensemble, and the Jubilee Majestic Concert Choir.

The festival also features 10-foot-tall trees decorated in either scriptural or international themes by the 15 stakes surrounding Washington, D.C. Four international trees were decorated with dolls made by the young women in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. In addition to the trees, there is an international creche exhibit with creches from Egypt, India, Peru, Spain, Tanzania, the United States and Yugoslavia. One of the most popular attractions is the outdoor Nativity scene which includes a live depiction of Mary and Joseph.

The festival is considered a holiday treat by many residents who return every year to recapture the spirit of the holiday season.

Elder Spencer Jensen, director of the Washington Temple Visitors Center, said: "The Festival of Lights is our gift to the community. We want all to come and enjoy this season of peace; this was the Savior's message to all mankind. If we can live it during the Christmas season, hopefully we can live it the rest of the year as well. Even though I am only one, peace can begin with me."

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