Diplomats welcomed by Elder Maxwell toFestival of Lights

"Ennobling music, genuine love, and directional light are all precious things in today's world which is sometimes dissonant, spiteful and dark," said Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve. He welcomed the more than 40 ambassadors who, along with their families, attended the opening night of the 17th Annual Festival of Lights Nov. 30.

With those concepts as the centerpiece, Elder Maxwell and Ahmed Maher El Sayed, ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt, turned the key to illuminate the 300,000 lights that adorn the grounds of the Washington Temple Visitors Center.As Elder Maxwell and the ambassador approached the podium, Elder Maxwell spoke a verse from the Koran in Arabic, "God is the light of the heavens and the earth," to the pleasure of the numerous ambassadors from Arabic nations who were in attendance.

Ambassador Sayed began his remarks by noting that, "We are all here to give testimony to what is best in humanity." Commenting on the lights, he said: "May the thousands of lights which we have just turned on light our hearts and our lives with love and fraternity, with tolerance and understanding. May they bring a message of hope and solidarity to those who are alone, those who are afraid, those who are threatened, those who suffer everywhere, in their bodies and souls, in Palestine, in Bosnia, in Ireland, in Somalia, in Rwanda - and a message to those who have suffered in the past that we remember them."

The crowd could not be contained and burst into applause as he said, "We implore Him to send a rain of light on our world so that the poor, the sick, the desolate, the desperate, the suffering, the lonely, can see the end of the tunnel and that our future be better than our past."

The emissaries were particularly touched as Elder Maxwell concluded his speech with: "Genuine hope is urgently needed in order for us to be more loving, even as the love of many in the world waxes cold; more merciful, even when we are misunderstood or misrepresented; more holy, even as the world ripens in iniquity; more courteous and patient in a coarsening and curt world; and more full of hope, even when other men's hearts fail them."

Elder Maxwell recognized the international diversity within the room by commenting that no matter what religion, race or nationality, "love and music never need a visa. They cross over all borders and link various generations and cultures. Light can permeate all climes and it is the means by which we see reality more clearly and can distinguish between truth and error as well as giving us the needed personal direction."

Beverly Campbell, director of the International Affairs Office, told those assembled: "These lights are our Church's gift to those who call our nation's capital home and are symbolic of the light which came to the earth at the time of the birth of the Christ child."

Renowned soloist Michael Ballam held the audience spellbound as he sang along with the 100-voice Mormon Choir of Washington D.C., under the direction of Dr. Eugene Morlan.

The standing-room-only event, hosted by the International Affairs Office, was directed toward the international community. Many attending commented on the peace and love they felt as they listened to the music, heard the words of the apostle and ambassador, and fellowshiped with the members of the Church.

Ambassador Kozminski of Poland, who was recently credentialed, revealed that the evening was the most meaningful thing he had ever been to in Washington. Stefanus Aldrich, wife of the acting ambassador of South Africa, said the evening brought tears to her eyes.

The spirit and camaraderie were felt by all throughout the evening. Many lingered and took pictures, viewed the trees and creche exhibit; but most of all they stayed to continue enjoying the spirit.

Twelve LDS congressional members acted as hosts at a reception for the ambassadors and their families immediately prior to the ceremony. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced Ambassador El Sayed the first night. During a similar program the following night, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced Elder Maxwell.

Not to be forgotten, children in attendance were invited to the front where they were given Christmas bells to ring as they led the audience in singing "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Frosty the Snowman."

For many of the diplomats, the Festival of Lights is the beginning of their holiday season. Each year, the number of ambassadors and key deputy ambassadors attending increases.

As Elder Maxwell said, "There are no two events which do more to open the windows to the Church than the Western Family picnic (See Oct. 15, 1994, Church News) and the Festival of Lights.

Ambassador Lichardus of the Slovak Republic remarked how beautiful everything was to look at, "especially the trees and dolls." The feeling of love and warmth continued into the second evening as those same comments were heard. Mr. Szucs of Hungary said as he left, video recorder in hand, "I am amazed at the wonderful spirit here tonight." One ambassador commented that now he was ready to enter the temple.

The diplomatic guests were given a gift of the music of the Tabernacle Choir and a golden box of frankincense and myrrh, reaffirming the remarks of Elder Maxwell that "to so live in our individual circumstances is our little gift to a generous God. It is our bestowal of the frankincense of faith, the myrrh of morality, and the gold of personal goodness."

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