MERIDA, Mexico — Temple building seems to happen naturally in the Yucatan. Stunning archaeological edifices with Mayan names like Chichen Itza and Uxmal pepper this south Mexican peninsula — symbols of the spiritual sensitivities and longings of her people.
In the hearts of many Mayan descendants, a new temple stands foremost in the land.
"Now the Lord has a house in Yucatan, now we have a place here to find His comfort," said Deborah de Ortiz.
The Merida Yucatan Mexico Temple was dedicated July 8, the Church's 92nd temple. President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided over the dedication and offered the dedicatory prayer. His trip to Merida was the latest in many apostolic visits to Mexico during a year of prolific and historic temple building. In the past six months, eight new temples have been dedicated in this Latin American country, including the July 9 ceremony in Veracruz.
Two more Mexican temples in Monterrey and Guadalajara are scheduled to open later.
While the Merida temple is the first to be built in the Yucatan Peninsula, the area enjoys a rich legacy of LDS temple activity and devotion. For years, local members have made long, costly excursions to the temple in Mexico City. Pioneer members even recall trips to the Mesa Arizona Temple that would stretch over two weeks.
"Many sacrifices marked those temple trips to Mesa," said Jose Andres Parra, a long-time Church member and leader in Merida. "Sometimes it would take four days to travel to the temple, then we would spend four days in the temple then another four days to return to our homes."
Now those demanding temple trips for the people of the Yucatan are chapters of local Church history. Celia Carrillo hopes they will never be forgotten. Remembering those sacrifices, she says, deepens the Yucatan saints' appreciation and love for the stately, white marble temple in Merida.
Sister Carrillo joined the Church in 1959 when there were only three LDS families living in Merida. Each member's faith was vital to the tiny branch's survival. If one family wavered, the unit could collapse. Later, Sister Carrillo was called to be the first full-time missionary from Merida and served in Mexico City.
Sister Carrillo's faith was both tried and rewarded during temple excursions. She remembers once riding on a Mexico City-bound train infested with mice that "scurried across my feet as we traveled." Most of the members, including Sister Carrillo's children, were ill when they finally arrived at the Mexico City temple.
On a later temple trip, a group of Merida saints rented a bus to take them to the Mexican capital. The bus lost control on a highway in a remote section of the country and tumbled down a gully.
"I didn't want to open my eyes for fear some of the members had been killed," Sister Carrillo said.
Fortunately, there were no life-threatening injuries, but the accident left many bloodied and bruised. The group was greeted at the top of the gully by a trio of men who apparently had designs on ambushing and robbing the passing bus. But after witnessing the accident, the would-be bandits walked away, Sister Carrillo said.
A group of kind-hearted people picked up the Church members, took them to their small village and offered medical care.
"We talked then about returning to Merida and forgetting about the temple, but we all said, 'Let's continue on'," Sister Carrillo said.
Now Sister Carrillo wonders if the accident may have been a blessing. Had bandits attacked the bus many of the members would have surely fought to defend their families. Blood may have been spilt, leaving someone dead or seriously injured.
Brother Parra called the Merida Yucatan Temple dedication a joyous day for all Mexicans, regardless of their religious affiliation. Now the Church has a powerful missionary in the form of a temple. Many who were not members of the Church attended the open house and learned about the temple's happy function for families, he said.
"Being in the temple is the closest you will ever be on earth to heaven," he said.
While veteran members have been forged by decades of faith-building temple experiences, Merida's young relish the Lord's holy house as a school for their testimonies.
"I'm really looking forward to turning 12 so I can go to the temple and do baptisms for the dead, including the baptism for my grandparents," Nayibe Ortiz said.
Thousands of members ignored the sticky peninsula heat and arrived at the lush temple grounds to attend one of the four dedicatory sessions, swap "abrazos" (hugs) and smiles with fellow members and listen to wise counsel from President Monson, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve and other visiting authorities.
Domingo Renan Perez Maldonado, president of the Merida Mexico Itzimna Stake, said he had been looking to this day since 1979 when he served as a translator during Elder David B. Haight's visit to the Yucatan Peninsula.
"The apostle told us a temple would be built here someday," he said. "This temple will be a place of spiritual light for everybody."
One of the Lord's temples belongs in the heartland of the Mayas, said Brother Fermin Hererra Baeca.
"Remember, the word 'Maya' means a place where people live in peace, justice and righteousness," he said. "That is why there is a temple in Merida."