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Edifice a bountiful blessing for Asuncion

ASUNCION, Paraguay — Some 220 miles outside of Asuncion in Paraguay's Chaco region live a scattering of about 500 Nivacle Indians who are Latter-day Saints. Some from the capital city call the Nivacle colony "Abudancia," or land of abundance. It's a reference to Nephi's Land of Bountiful — and perhaps a dual nod to Chaco's fecund land and the Nivacle members' reposits of faith and love.

For LDS Paraguayans, "Abudancia's" borders now extend to a corner lot near the intersection of España and Brasilia streets not far from downtown Asuncion where a temple stands. The May 19 dedication of the Asuncion Paraguay Temple, they say, means the fullness of the gospel's blessings can now be found inside their own country.

"I've aways prayed for a temple in Paraguay," said Romulo Zorrilla of the Mariano Roca Alonzo Ward, Asuncion Paraguay Stake. "I knew a temple would help us as members become more faithful. It gives us hope."

President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Asuncion Paraguay Temple, the Church's 112th, in four sessions just two days after presiding over the opening of a new temple in Campinas, Brazil. He was joined by President James E. Faust of the First Presidency and Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy and president of South America South Area.

The opening of the Paraguay temple closes a pivotal, even prophetic tome in Church history. The first temple in South America was dedicated just 24 years ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Now there is such an edifice in every Spanish-speaking South American nation and four in Brazil. The Paraguayan dedication also marks the end of a remarkable period of temple building throughout Latin America. No additional temples in the region have been announced.

Donning raincoats and smiles, thousands from all corners of Paraguay and several Argentine provinces traveled to the picturesque temple site to participate in the dedication and listen to the counsel of Church leaders. Interest in the new edifice stretched beyond the area's growing Church membership. Several Paraguayan media outlets covered the dedication and the words of President Hinckley and other Church members gleaned during interviews.

The Church in Paraguay is still penning its opening chapters. The first member, Carlos Alberto Rodriguez, was baptized in 1949. A stake did not exist inside the country until 1979. Church growth in Paraguay did not keep pace with much of South America in those early years. Yet that lean period offered refining moments for many now serving as leaders.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, far left, was joined by President James E. Faust and other leaders and
President Gordon B. Hinckley, far left, was joined by President James E. Faust and other leaders and their wives at the cornerstone ceremony for the Asuncion Paraguay Temple. | Photo by Jason Swensen

Francisco Vitale was studying to be a Catholic priest in 1966 when he learned of the Church and was baptized and became one of the first full-time missionaries called from Paraguay. Public regard for the Church in Paraguay at that time was sometimes low, he recalled.

"It was difficult to be a member; people would come and throw rocks at the building where we met," Brother Vitale said. "Now people respect the Church. For the Paraguayan members, this temple is a miracle."

Abilio and Maria Elena Samaniego remember packing picnics to eat between their Sabbath meetings in the early 1970s. The uniform block meeting schedule had not yet been implemented, so their branch held Sunday school and other meetings in the morning then reconvened in the afternoon for sacrament meeting.

"We brought lunches and sat under the trees to eat because the walk home was about five kilometers," Sister Samaniego said. "We had children so it was hard to walk and we could not afford the bus fare back and forth — so we just waited after the morning meetings until sacrament meeting started."

A longtime patriarch, Brother Samaniego now serves as a counselor in the new temple presidency. His wife is an assistant to the temple matron. Those small children who ate their in-between-meeting lunches under trees have grown firm in the faith. A daughter, Myriam Maluff, served as the local temple committee's public affairs director and acted as a valuable liaison between the Church and the local press during the temple building process and dedication.

"The Lord has shown us much love, and I'm grateful," President Samaniego said. "When we heard the news that a temple was to be built in Paraguay we clapped and jumped and hollered. We wanted the Lord to know how happy we were."

A couple enjoy one of the temple's many gardens.
A couple enjoy one of the temple's many gardens. | Photo by Jason Swensen

Anyone who visits the new temple will be standing on sacred and historic ground. The temple was built on the same site where the nation's first LDS chapel was built in 1964. The original meetinghouse was recently demolished to make room for the temple.

Crecencio Lopez perhaps represents the promise of Paraguay following the May 19 temple dedication. Just 23 years old, Brother Lopez presides over the Nivacle District where testimonies are forged amid challenge. The Nivacle speak an indigenous tongue and are waiting for the Book of Mormon to be translated into their own language. Only six families from the district had been through a temple prior to the dedication of the Asuncion Paraguay Temple. Yet the Nivacle members look to their priesthood leaders such as young President Lopez, who served a Spanish-speaking mission in Paraguay. Now they rejoice in the blessings to be found at the new temple.

"This is a great opportunity for me to participate in a temple dedication and see the prophet," said President Lopez, who traveled to the sessions with a group of fellow Nivacle. "This temple gives us encouragement to be better."

E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com

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