An outpouring of love for Prophet: Pres. Hinckley addresses 88,000 in Central America

Freedom from want in difficult economies in Central American countries and peace in these lands often troubled by war will come as the people live the gospel, President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized during a six-nation tour that ended here Jan. 26.

During his tour Jan. 19-26, which included visits to Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, nearly 88,000 attended the meetings and heard the prophet speak. In Costa Rica, he met with the president of the country, Jose Maria Figueres, at his office in San Jose. He also paid a courtesy visit to the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, James F. Creagan, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.The Church president's penchant for literally going the extra mile was met with similar dedication by local members who turned out in record numbers, many traveling long distances at great sacrifice. The largest congregations were at a regional conference in Guatemala City, where 35,000 members met in two sessions.

Great outpourings of love were expressed at gatherings in each of the counties. Tears flowed freely in the congregations and on the podiums.

Accompanying President Hinckley were his wife, Marjorie, and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, who delighted congregations by speaking in Spanish, and his wife, Dantzel. Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy and president of the Central America Area, and his wife, Mary Ann, also accompanied the group. In Guatemala, Elders Lino Alvarez of the Seventy and Julio E. Alvarado, area authority, first and second counselors, respectively, in the Central America Area presidency, also participated.

This was the first visit of a president of the Church to Central America since President Spencer W. Kimball held area conferences in Guatemala and Costa Rica in 1977. During the trip, President Hinckley delivered 19 major addresses, including two in Florida where he began the tour Jan. 18-19. There, he spoke at a conference in Jacksonville, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first stake in the Southern States. (See Church News, Jan. 25.) While in Central America, he was also interviewed by the news media in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. During his tour, President Hinckley spoke to more than 2,000 missionaries in the six countries.

The following are country-by-country accounts of his trip:


At the first of the Central America countries that he visited, President Hinckley spoke Jan. 20 to more than 3,000 members. Most had taken time off from work to be in the Analyami Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City at the unusual meeting hour of 9 o'clock on a Monday morning. Some had traveled up to six hours by bus to get to the meeting.

President Hinckley commented, "We don't usually hold meetings on Monday mornings, but I am deeply grateful for you being here."

He challenged the members to live up to the covenants they made when they joined the Church. "When you were baptized, you set aside the things of the world. Each Sabbath Day when you partake of the sacrament, you renew that covenant that binds you to your Father in Heaven. . . . Thank you for your goodness."

President Hinckley mentioned the 1997 sesquicentennial year of the pioneers' arrival in Utah, "when we remember that great act of faith when our people came to the valleys of the mountains. Today, we are beneficiaries of their great faith, and from that which was established in the mountains has gone forward to all the earth."

He challenged those present to resolve to live the gospel, and be worthy of and hold a current temple recommend. Following the meeting, he spoke to 177 missionaries in the Panama Panama City Mission.

Costa Rica

After speaking at the morning meeting in Panama, President Hinckley arrived in Costa Rica later in the day on Jan 20. Soon after arriving in San Jose in the afternoon, President Hinckley spoke to missionaries of the Costa Rica San Jose Mission. Afterward, he visited the president of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Figueres at the president's office in San Jose. He thanked the leader for the warm welcome extended to missionaries in his country. President Figueres, in turn, spoke of the excellent reputation of Church members in the nation. Accompanied by Elder Nelson and Elder Bradford, President Hinckley presented a statue commemorating family life to the Costa Rican president, along with a framed copy of the "Proclamation on the Family."

That evening, President Hinckley spoke in the national gymnasium to nearly 7,000 members, whom he described as "the strength of the Church in Costa Rica."

"We have a great work to do," he said. "It requires the faith of every one of you."

He emphasized the importance of fellowshipping new converts, 840 of whom had joined the Church in Costa Rica during 1996. "We have an obligation to fellowship these people, to put our arms around them in full activity. We must reach out and help. I wish with all my heart that in Costa Rica, every man, woman and child who is baptized would remain faithful and active. That can happen if all 7,000 of you make up your minds to reach out and help new converts. They can't do it alone. They need your help. Only as we reach out to help others are we truly Latter-day Saints."

He also spoke of temple work and encouraged members to "save and work to get to the House of the Lord, there to be sealed under authority of the holy priesthood in a contract that time cannot destroy. There is not a substitute for this for you as Latter-day Saints."


The next day, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, President Hinckley and his group were in Nicaragua. "How we love you," he exclaimed to about 2,400 members in the Aloph Palme Auditorium at a 9 a.m. meeting. This was the first visit to Nicaragua by a Church president since 1954 when President David O. McKay stopped briefly at the Managua airport during a visit to Central America.

"I know you have many problems in your lives," said President Hinckley. "You wonder where your next meal is coming from. You have suffered much in years past. I am grateful better days are here. I hope and pray the blessings of the Lord will be poured down on you."

Then, with considerable emotion, he said, "The Lord loves you and looks down upon you with great love. . . . I will never forget this wonderful sight in the city of Managua, Nicaragua."

He spoke of the importance of individual testimony, and of loyalty and belief in the Church. The Church, he continued, "stands as a great anchor in a world of unbelief. It is the Church of Jesus Christ here to help you, to educate you, to provide social opportunities for you, to give you the word of God."

Speaking in a subdued way, President Hinckley said, "Jesus loved the poor of the earth and He blessed them. We bless you with His divine authority."

President Hinckley also spoke at a meeting of 140 missionaries of the Nicaragua Managua Mission and Nicaragua's district presidents. He expressed his hope that the districts would soon become stakes and the branches become wards "that the work will go forward with a maturity that it has not known for a long time."

An automobile accident that occurred as the group was leaving Nicaragua failed to slow down the energetic leader. The accident occurred on the way to the airport. As the party was being escorted through an intersection, a truck carrying unsecured aluminium beams stopped abruptly. The beams on top of the truck slid forward, striking the president's car behind the rear door and shattering the rear window. Sister Hinckley received a few minor scratches and President Hinckley was uninjured in the potentially dangerous accident.


The prophet then traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, arriving in the afternoon of Jan. 21. He first met with 191 missionaries of the Honduras San Pedro Sula Mission.

"It is important that these [converts] be so well converted that they will never leave the Church they have taken upon themselves," he emphasized. "They should remain faithful, active and diligent - living the gospel and doing everything expected of them. Please, please, please be sure your baptisms are converts to the Church."

Some 8,100 members attended an outdoor meeting at the National Stadium where the prophet spoke that evening. "I hope the Church is the greating thing in your lives," he told them. "I hope you live it, love it, pray for it, send your sons and daughters in the mission field for it, and serve in it when you are called. This is God's holy work."

He bid farewell to the San Pedro Saints by expressing his love for them. "I just have such tremendous respect for you. You are our people. You are the kind of people we like to be with. . . . How much we love you." The thousands waved white handkerchiefs in a symbol of reciprocated love as President Hinckley left the stadium.

The next morning, Wednesday morning, Jan. 22, he arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he was interviewed by a news reporter, and spoke to 224 missionaries of the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission. He also paid a courtesy visit to U. S. Ambassador to Honduras, James F. Creagan. The two discussed the current situation in Honduras and some of the humanitarian work the Church has done in the nation.

At the missionary meeting, the Church leader told missionaries who had learned a second language to "never lose that skill. Spanish is the second language of the Church."

In the evening, he met with more than 15,000 members at the National Stadium, also held outdoors. He instructed them, "You are a chosen generation, my brothers and sisters. You were preserved in the great plan of the Almighty to receive the blessings of the eternal gospel."

As in other places, great outpourings of love were expressed by the members for their leaders in a night never to be forgotten by the Saints of Honduras.

El Salvador

Upon arriving in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Thursday, Jan. 23, President Hinckley was interviewed by a reporter, and then addressed 374 missionaries of the El Salvador San Salvador East and West missions.

In his words to the missionaries, President Hinckley spoke of being asked in the press interview what missionaries have to offer the people.

"I told him you offer a better way of life! The people don't realize they are sons and daughters of God and that their lives are purposeful and meaningful. You have the Word of Wisdom to offer. You offer them a better way of life with their families. . . . You offer the way to eternal life with all the happiness and joy that God our Eternal Father wishes His children to have."

At the National Gymnasium, some 10,000 members had gathered from hundreds of miles to hear the prophet. Some had been waiting six hours in the bleachers. An air of expectation blanketed the congregation. As President Hinckley entered, all arose in a show of respect and reverence.

"I want to tell you how important you are in this Church," he said. "God bless you, my companions in this work."

He noted the thousands of children in the congregation and commented to their parents:

"Fathers and mothers, you have nothing more precious than the little children to whom you have given life. Take care of them, teach them, love them, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God will hold accountable those who do not do so."

He and other leaders lingered after the closing prayer to wave and express love to those who had come to see their leader in what would be for many a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


President Hinckley then traveled to Guatemala, where the largest congregations of Central America assembled for two sessions of the Guatemala City Central/North regional conference on Jan. 26. President Hinckley spoke at a priesthood leadership meeting attended by more than 1,000 leaders from 12 stakes, and to a gathering of 700 missionaries. He also held a press interview.

In the first regional conference session, held at the La Pedrera soccer stadium, about 20,000 members in 17 outlying stakes and many districts attended. Sixty buses came from just the city of Quetzaltenango, about a 41/2-hour ride. The afternoon session was attended by 12 stakes in the Guatemala City metropolitan area, with more than 15,000 present.

In the morning sessions, President Hinckley thanked members for their sacrifice in coming. "I am pleased," he said, "to see so many of the sons and daughters of Father Lehi. I think if he could look down on this vast audience, there would be great tears in his eyes of gratitude.

"I am grateful, my brothers and sisters, to see us return to the way of the Lord. (See Morm. 5:17.) We have lived in sorrow long enough - we have lived in pain, and poverty and want. Now the God of heaven has opened the windows of heaven. I see so much of poverty in Central America. The solution to this will take more than governmental programs. It will take the blessings of the Lord. Live worthy of the blessings of the Lord."

He also encouraged members to pay tithing to receive the promised blessings. He said "the safety of our people lies in living the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other way."

In the afternoon session, he rehearsed the visits he had made during the trip, and noted that he had spoken to nearly 88,000 members.

He expressed thankfulness to Heavenly Father, "the great God of the universe. . . . I am grateful to know that I am a child of God and that I have a divine birthright."

Commenting on the trip, Elder Bradford said that many of the people traveled long distances at great sacrifices.

"They couldn't be dissuaded when they learned the prophet was coming. The people are just overwhelmed by his visit. They have a testimony of prophets, but they never thought they would get a chance see one up close.

"The conferences and messages and blessing President Hinckley gave will certainly be remembered. There will be a great deal of change take place in people's lives as a result of it."

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