Tears flow, faith grows as Filipinos greet prophet

''We wanted our children to see the prophet early in their lives.''

When love is felt to such a depth that no words can express it, tears tend to flow. There were many moist eyes as President Gordon B. Hinckley visited this island republic May 30-June 1, meeting with Church members and missionaries in Manila and Cebu City.

Tears were shed on both sides of the podium - by the visiting prophet and the resident Filipino members. It seems that President Hinckley has as strong an attachment for the Philippines as the members here have for him.In Manila, President Hinckley spoke to more than 35,000 people, who crowded into the Amoranto Sports Complex for a fireside May 30. Twenty thousand had been expected. Owners of the facility allowed more chairs to be added, but eventually declared no more people could be admitted to the massive complex. Initially, hundreds were turned away from the doors. However, officials of the facility were so touched by the members' tears of disappointment that they relented and allowed them to enter. The congregation in Manila possibly comprised the largest gathering a Church president has ever addressed in person.

Many of those who traveled long distances to Manila went to the grounds of the Manila Philippines Temple, where they spent hours, even days, until time to go to the fireside. Four LDS meetinghouses were used as sleeping accommodations for members to stay at night. The Church provided sleeping mats, which were spread on cultural hall and classroom floors, and portable cook stoves, which the travelers used outdoors to prepare their meals.

A happy, almost surreal atmosphere seemed to settle on the temple grounds the evening before and the morning of the fireside. One could not help but think of the Book of Mormon account of the people who had gathered around the temple to listen to their beloved leader, King Benjamin. Here, in Manila, members gathered around the temple in an exquisitely beautiful setting as they prepared to hear the words of today's prophet, a man they obviously love and revere.

Each person that the Church News approached spoke forthrightly and directly; most bore testimony that they know President Hinckley is a prophet of God. They exhibited no doubt, and did not hesitate to make their declarations.

Pres. Rizalde V. Mercado came with 50 members of the Munoz 1st Branch, Philippines Cabanatuan Mission. "We packed ourselves in real tight into two `jeepneys,' " he said, referring to decorative modes of transportation indigenous to the Philippines made from left-over military vehicles. "We didn't have to come far, just four hours away." Pres. Mercado paused, looked skyward briefly, and then, with a level gaze in his eyes and a tenderness in his voice that made one know he spoke with conviction, he added, "It will be good for us to see President Hinckley. He is the Lord's prophet."

Dionisia Colomibao of the Panganan 3rd Ward, Lingayen Philippines Stake, and fellow ward members arrived in Manila at 6 a.m. May 30, having left home at 2 a.m. "We dressed up and went to a session in the temple," she said. "We have come from a far place to see President Hinckley. He is a living prophet." Sister Colomibao began to weep after she made that simple statement. Struggling to regain her composure, she resolutely added, "I'm so glad to be here because now I can hear with my own ears a voice coming from the Lord, just like the Book of Mormon people did."

Gloria Miranda, a returned missionary, came with her parents, Leonardo and Beatriz Miranda, and her brothers and sisters from Mount Pinatubo, the city devastated by an erupting volcano. "We are all excited to see the prophet because we know he is a servant of the Lord, and we know that he brings blessings to the Philippines," she said.

Jake and Marizic Reyes traveled eight hours with their young daughter, Lyrre Deseret, and son, Limhur Jared. "We wanted our children to see the prophet early in their lives," Brother Reyes said. "This will help them when they are older and bear their testimony about God's living prophets."

Roland Arcansalin, recorder of the Manila Philippines Temple, was thrilled over the residual effects of President Hinckley's visit. "Many people have come to the temple as they have come to Manila to hear President Hinckley speak," he said. "This is probably the most significant event in the history of the temple in the Philippines. I've never seen so many people come to the temple in a single day. We had 560 attend the sessions on Wednesday [the day before the fireside]."

Brother Arcansalin pointed to a bus, in which several members were resting in the sweltering heat. "They are from the Laoag stake. It would have taken them 10-12 hours to come to Manila," he noted. "Those from the Naga stake took even longer because of the road conditions at this time; they had to travel over a typhoon path, roads damaged by storms."

Still others traveled further and longer. "There are some members here from Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao who spent nearly four days traveling by boat and bus," he said. "They could have gone to hear the prophet in Cebu, but they wanted to make one trip, to come to the temple and to hear the prophet. Few could afford to make two trips."

Lines began forming at the Amoranto Sports Complex before 7 a.m. for the meeting that was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Ushers opened the complex's doors about 1 p.m. so people would not have to wait in the hot sunlight. Seats were filled hours before starting time. After the doors were closed and all who could be seated were in the building, the meeting began about half an hour early. Elder Ben B. Banks of the Seventy and president of the Philippines/Micronesia Area said that owners of the 36-year-old facility commented that they had never seen a more orderly gathering of people.

As President Hinckley entered the arena, members of the congregation rose to their feet, applauded, and then spontaneously joined each other in singing an emotional rendition of "We Thank, Thee, O God, for a Prophet."

A hush quickly fell over the assembly as the meeting began. Participating with President Hinckley as speakers during the meeting were Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Banks; Sister Marjorie Hinckley; Sister Elisa Wirthlin; and Sister Susan Banks. As President Hinckley, the concluding speaker, stood to address the congregation it seemed the members collectively leaned forward in their seats, as if a forward posture would put them nearer to their leader and help them receive his words even sooner.

In Cebu City the next afternoon, May 31, much of the scene in Manila was repeated, though on a smaller scale. Nearly 9,200 members packed the Cebu Coliseum - a thousand more than had been expected and many more than the building could comfortably accommodate. As in Manila, it is certain that more would have attended had a larger facility been available.

The time of the meeting, 4 p.m., contributed to the one unpleasant aspect of the historic event: afternoon temperatures reached 100 degrees F, and the air was extremely humid. Yet, hundreds of people went to the coliseum, which did not have air conditioning, in the late morning hours and sat there for up to five hours, waiting to see and hear the prophet. The meeting was held in the afternoon, Elder Banks pointed out, so that members from far away would be able to make connections with boats and other modes of transportation to return to their homes.

"People came from as far away as Minandao, Samar and Leyte, taking long boat rides to get to Cebu," Elder Banks said. "We had hundreds of people who came from these islands. Many stayed overnight in Church meetinghouses. Local members wanted to prepare meals for them to help out. Many of these members spent their life savings to attend these meetings, in Manila as well as in Cebu. In both places, some made comments to the effect that they sat so far away from the stand that they could not see President Hinckley's face, but that didn't matter. They said, `Just to hear his voice and feel his spirit is reward enough.' "

In both Manila and Cebu - as well as in other locales during his Asian travels - members stood after the closing prayer and sang "God Be With You `Til We Meet Again." In all places, emotions ran high during the singing of this hymn, but they seemed particularly tender in the Philippines.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed