Church's 2,000 stake created

As President Howard W. Hunter presided, the Church's milestone 2,000th stake was created here Dec. 11 in a spiritual outpouring that some members compared with those of Book of Mormon times.

The 2,000th stake is the Mexico City Mexico Contreras Stake, created in an area with a tradition of long, sustained growth.The creation of the new stake marks a doubling in the number of stakes worldwide in just 15 years. In the past six years, about three stakes outside the United States have been created for every stake inside the United States.

Many of these stakes have been created in Mexico, where more members live than in any country other than the United States. Mexico received its 100th stake in 1989, and with the new one has 129. Membership in the country is approaching 700,000.

President Hunter's visit was particularly meaningful as he has taken part in other important Mexico stake creations in the past, including a division of the original stake in Mexico City in 1974, when he was a member of the Council of the Twelve. In 1975, in one historic week, he created 16 stakes in the Mexico City area, and in 1977 he created the Church's 800th stake in Veracruz, Mexico.

During his stay in Mexico Dec. 9-12, President Hunter personally issued a number of callings to new stake leaders who were sustained Dec. 11 at a multi-stake conference, to which members of five stakes were invited.

In additions to the creation of the 2,000th stake, the presidencies of three stakes, Ermita, Tlalpan and Iztapalapa, were reorganized, and the name of the Iztapalapa stake was changed to Mexico City Mexico Meyehualco. The sustaining of the new leaders in all the stakes, including the new stake, was conducted by Elder Armando Goana Juan., regional representative. Afterward, each of the former and new stake presidents bore short, fervent testimonies. Among them was Pres. Victor Salinas, a young government attorney called as president of the new Contreras stake, who said his call by the prophet "touched me to the marrow of my bones."

At the conference, President Hunter spoke to some 4,250 members gathered in the Mexico City Churubusco stake center. Here he presided at his first stake creation since becoming president last June. Sunday evening, he hosted a reception of Mexico clerics, afterward adressed a large crowd estimated to be about 12,000, and turned on the lights at the annual Mexico City Temple lighting ceremony.

Accompanying President Hunter at the conference were his wife, Inis, and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve and his wife, Dantzel. Elder Lino Alvarez of the Seventy, president of the Mexico South Area, who is stationed in Mexico City, conducted the multi-stake conference. His wife, Argelia, attended the conference with him.

At the lighting ceremony, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Seventy, a counselor in the Mexico South Area presidency, and his wife, Katherine, who attended other stake conferences during the morning, joined the group. Elder Christofferson and his wife live in Mexico City.

President Hunter's visit to Mexico will have lasting impact, said Elder Alvarez.

"It has been almost 20 years since a president of the Church has come here," he noted. President Spencer W. Kimball was the last Church president to visit the country in 1977. "The visit of President Howard W. Hunter will give us inspiration for many years to come. His influence will last many years in the lives of the members.

"The creation of the 2,000th stake here by President Hunter is a testimony of the leadership of the local leaders. This will create a great surge forward; it is a great blessing to have the president of the Church here."

The day before the conference, President Hunter took part in his first television interview since becoming president of the Church. The interview was conducted in a downtown hotel by a Salt Lake City station, KSL-TV, on Dec. 10. During the interview, President Hunter responded to a Church News question about the Spanish-speaking members of the Church. This group, he said, now comprises 27 percent of the Church's total membership.

"They are a sweet, humble people. We gain a lot from them. I feel good about the progress that has been made among the Spanish-speaking people, and the Church will continue to grow (among them), without a doubt."

President Hunter's words of admonistion during the multi-stake conference touched the hearts of thousands of faithful members, many of whom are descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples. They felt deeply the significance of the prophet's presence. Once woman, Victoria Wolf of the Mexico City Mexico Churubusco stake, seemed to sum up the feelings of many members:

"This visit of [President Hunter] is a historical and special thing; also, it reminds me a little of the visit of Jesus Christ to the Americas...It has touched our hearts and will strengthen our testimonies and those of our posterity."

This spirit of devotion among the members was manifest another way at the conference. Some members arrived as early as 8 p.m. the previous evening and slept on the sidewalks in order to have good seats. Many others arrived by 5 a.m., and the stake center was filled to capacity with some 2,500 people inside by 8 a.m., two hours before the conference began. Another nearly 2,000 members were eventually outside, clustered around color video monitors. Elder Nelson and Elder Alvarez greeted many before the meeting began, both in teh meetinghouse and the tents outside.

Members rose in reverence as President Hunter was brought into the chapel. As he entered, he stopped to shake hands with Pres. Agricol Lozano H., Mexico City Temple president and the first local president of a stake in Mexico City. During President Hunter's remarks, the members were extremely silent, as if hanging on every word. (See separate article on the speeches of President Hunter, Elder Nelson and Elder Alvarez on page 3).

The conference concluded with a wave of emotion that swept across the congregation. Somber members stood and bade tender farewells with waves and handkerchiefs. The scene was repeated a short time later when President Hunter left the meetinghouse and hundreds of those who had been seated outside waited to see him. They, too, waved and wept.

Following a dinner at the temple, President Hunter was host at a reception at the temple's visitors center for religious leaders. Among those who attended were Rabbi Abraham I. Bartfeld and Rabbi Enrique Moshovich Rothfeld, head of the large Jewish community in Mexico City; the Rev. Ignacio Diaz de Leon, missionary of the Holy Spirit, and Guadlupe Gardia Angulo, Catholic leaders; Shashi Dahr Dimri and Mariano Avila Arteaga, Hindu leaders; Cesar Makhlour Alk, Islam leader; and Amina Teshima, Sufi (Muslim) leader. These leaders were guests of honor at the lighting ceremony that followed.

Perhaps nowhere was the progress of the Church and the country more evident than at the lighting ceremony. Ushers and security men communicated through cellular telphones. Atop the meetinghouse roof behind the stand were two giant video screens-- each facing crowds in two adjacent parking lots-- that provided a better view for those in the distance.

President Hunter delivered his remarks in a firm voice, bearing testimony of the Savior and extending Christmas greetings to all.

After his remarks, he ceremonially turned on the 240,000 lights. Corkscrewing up palms and snaking over bushes, these blinking pinpoints of color seemed to be in a beauty pageant of their own as they competed for the attention of the eye.

After the ceremony ended, President Hunter and his group slipped to their waiting cars where more fond "vaya con Dios" were bid, evidence of the hearts that had been touched by his visit.

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