Ambassador helps turn on yule lights

KENSINGTON, Md. — China's ambassador to the United States, Li Zhaoxing, joined Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy in ushering in the 21st Annual Festival of Lights at the Washington Temple Visitors Center Dec. 2.

After presenting Christmas messages to the audience of ambassadors, diplomats and their families, and others the two leaders "flipped the switch" to illuminate 300,000 lights that will glisten throughout the Christmas season. More than 300,000 visitors are expected to visit the temple grounds through early January.

The following night, on Dec. 3, Elder Carmack again greeted diplomats and guests for another lighting ceremony.

"Two nights of consecutive lighting ceremonies introduced the basic beliefs of the gospel of Jesus Christ to our international guests, members of the media, and local government, business and religious leaders, against the majestic backdrop of one of Washington's most well-known landmarks," said Ann Santini, director of International Affairs for the Church, which organized the event.

Diplomats from 51 countries, including 15 ambassadors, attended the ceremony. Diplomats from 51 countries, including 15 ambassadors, attended the ceremony.

In his address, Elder Carmack spoke of Christmas symbols and traditions. "Remember the words of the angel who sang to the shepherds, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' (Luke 2:14). That's the message of Christmas. And may we enjoy celebrating it," Elder Carmack said.

To diplomats in attendance who represent nations that don't celebrate Christmas, Elder Carmack reminded them to enjoy their own unique way of celebrating and to give thanks for their own beliefs and values.

"Christmas is a time when we wish blessings upon each other. My wish for all of us today is that we would prosper, that we would have peace, that we would have goodwill, that we would celebrate each in our own way, remembering our deeply held beliefs," said Elder Carmack.

Following Elder Carmack's remarks the first night, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced Ambassador Li by stating the ambassador was a personal friend, a friend of the Church and a friend of the United States. "Ambassador Li is one of the People's Republic of China preeminent emissaries," said Sen. Hatch.

Since February 1998, Ambassador Li has served as China's ambassador to the United States. He said that while he has visited 111 countries as a representative of China, only in America has he had the great honor of turning on so many lights.

Sister Santini said Ambassador Li and fellow diplomats from the Chinese embassy were impressed when Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona gave the opening prayer in Mandarin, a language he spoke while serving a mission in Taiwan 20 years ago. A choir made up of Church members from the Washington, D.C., area closed the program by singing the last verse of "Silent Night" in Mandarin.

Praising the millions of Latter-day Saints throughout the world, Ambassador Li said, "I know Mormons today have remained true to Joseph Smith's faith and sense of mission when he founded the Church one-and-a-half centuries ago. In this time, the Church has emphasized the role of family, and attached great importance to teaching children knowledge, culture, moral conduct and rule of law as to bring them up as level-minded members of society with compassion, love, teamwork and dedication."

He said he was greatly impressed by how many in the audience spoke Mandarin, including many members of the Church, and then joked that most of them speak it with a more accurate accent than he does.

Showing gratitude for the Church's Humanitarian Aid program, Ambassador Li said: "I cannot help but think of the positive relationship of exchange and cooperation between the Mormon Church and religious and educational circles in China. The Mormon Church has sent English teachers to China. And when China suffered severe flooding this past summer, the Mormon Church made several donations to affected areas, a genuine display of true compassion and love for the people in China. The Chinese TV has given very good coverage of the donations of the Mormon Church to the Chinese victims of the flooding and all the Chinese viewers that watched that program were deeply touched."

Encouraging his fellow government and diplomatic leaders in the quest for worldwide peace, Ambassador Li said, "I wish all of you to join me in a prayer for peace. Peace is the very spirit of Christmas and the first and foremost need of mankind. Our work today is faced with the very formidable task of safeguarding peace and promoting social progress."

During the two nights of lighting ceremonies, dozens of embassy staff from 51 nations met Church leaders, watched their children wonder at the twinkling lights, and came away from the visitors center with a greater understanding of Christmas, the Church and of Jesus Christ.

"The Festival of Lights as you call it, that was an extraordinary event, bringing together so many people around the world, and having us in one room, praying for peace all over the world," said Mongolian ambassador Jalbuu Choinhor, who brings his wife and daughter to the festival every year.

Ambassador of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Kingsley C.A. Layne said: "The Festival of Lights represents in a very warm way, the spirit of the season of Christmas. Since we have been in Washington, my wife and I look forward to this annual event."

In addition to Sen. Hatch and Rep. Salmon, other Latter-day Saint members of Congress attending the first night were Sens. Bob Bennett of Utah and Gordon Smith of Oregon and Reps. Ron Packard and John Doolitte of California. Sister Pam Herger, wife of California Congressman Wally Herger, also attended.

In the second lighting ceremony, diplomats from 34 countries listened to a Christ-centered message from Rep. Packard, who turned on the lights again with his wife, Jean, and Elder Carmack. Guests that night were also greeted by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Bennett and Rep. Merrill Cook of Utah. Leaders of the Church also welcomed Rep. Connie Morella of Maryland. Elder Carmack was introduced by Elder J. Willard Marriott, Jr., an Area Authority Seventy of the Church.

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