PANAMA CITY, PANAMA — "Oh how lovely was the morning. Radiant beamed the sun above."
The words of the hymn aptly described the scene witnessed by Panamanian members who gathered Oct. 20 to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Panama City Panama Temple.
The setting for the event and future temple was idyllic. On a beautiful hillside intensely framed by greenery in the suburb of Villa Cardenas, members enjoyed the blue skies and warm sun that made its way through the clouds. From the future temple site, ships from around the world could be seen as they passed through the Panama Canal.
Just a day before the Sabbath-day groundbreaking ceremony, Panamanians had been following the news of Hurricane Beta as it moved along the coastlines of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Folks here made preparations for bad weather stirred up by the hurricane and seasonal rains. But faithful Panamanians said they placed their faith in God that the weather would improve.
Their prayers were answered. The day of the temple groundbreaking ceremony was sunny and splendid.
Elder Spencer V. Jones of the Seventy and president of the Central America Area presided at the ceremony and offered a prayer of dedication at the event. Prior to his prayer, Elder Jones shared a message of inspiration for Panamanian members eager to worship in what will be their nation's first temple. As the House of the Lord is being built, he said, it's vital that all members set their own homes in order.
Elder Jones then cited Doctrine and Covenants 109:8: "Organize yourselves: prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God."
He added that blessings await Panamanian families who study the scriptures, hold regular family home evenings and gather together for family prayer.
Elder Jones also spoke of President Gordon B. Hinckley's challenge to incorporate the Book of Mormon into their lives and finish reading the sacred book by the end of the year.
Also present at the groundbreaking ceremony was Elder Jose Garcia, Area Seventy, along with local stake and district presidents, bishops and their wives.
In his comments, Elder Garcia spoke of the Panamanian "pioneers" who sacrificed much for their faith. Many such men and women are no longer alive, "but are witnesses of what is happening today."
Longtime Church member Domingo Strivi recalled a time when there was only a single branch in all of Panama. Now there are seven stakes, eight districts and more than 39,000 members.
"The dream of many of us is being realized today," said Brother Strivi.
Music at the groundbreaking ceremony was provided by a choir consisting of members from several area stakes.
The day signaled a joyous future for many LDS Panamanians.
"All of us who have had to travel to Bogota, Colombia; or San Jose, Costa Rica; will no longer have to travel so far because we will have a temple in our country," said Giovanni Merida of the La Chorrera Stake in western Panama.