SANTIAGO, Chile — For thousands of Latter-day Saints in Chile — and millions of their fellow members worldwide — March 11-12 was a weekend of happy returns. Just weeks after surgery, President Gordon B. Hinckley enjoyed a return of sorts, making his first public appearance since undergoing surgery recently. It seemed appropriate that his "comeback" happened at the rededication of the Santiago Chile Temple, an edifice that he originally dedicated 22 years ago and that was out of commission for some 14 months to be refurbished and renovated.
The Santiago Chile Temple was rededicated March 12 by President Hinckley in two sessions. His presiding presence at the temple's rededication sessions, and at a member devotional in Santiago a day earlier, were his first public appearances outside his office since undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous growth Jan. 24. The 95-year-old leader had lost weight — but he moved about surely, coming and going to the various events under his own power. His mind was sharp. His voice strong.
President Hinckley seemed pleased to be back "to work."
The Santiago Chile Temple rededication "went very well, we got through it very well," said President Hinckley as he walked out of the temple following the dedication. "Every session was filled and it was a wonderful occasion. I'm glad I came."
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve joined President Hinckley at the rededication, along with President Hinckley's son and fellow General Authority, Elder Richard G. Hinckley. Members of the Chile Area presidency — Elder Francisco J. Vinas and Elder Carl B. Pratt of the Seventy, along with Elder Oscar W. Chavez, an Area Seventy — also participated. President Hinckley was accompanied also by his other other son, Clark B. Hinckley.
"President Hinckley was at his best," said Elder Perry after the first session adjourned. "He conducted the entire session. Gave the dedicatory prayer. You wouldn't know he had ever been ill. His vigor was absolutely amazing."
Chilean Church members have undergone their own time of personal refurbishment and change over the past 14 months — a spiritually symbolic period of new beginning and fresh starts. Many have seized the time to add touch-ups to their own lives even as workers and artisans made dramatic physical improvements to the heartbeat of the Church here, the Santiago Chile Temple.
Now the edifice that sits regally and peacefully amid the verdant, tree-lined streets of Santiago's Providencia suburb is again open and blessing the lives of its patrons.
Hundreds enjoyed President Hinckley's company inside the temple during the two sessions, while thousands of other Chileans participated in the rededication ceremonies in Church meetinghouses throughout Chile and in western Argentina. During the first session, President Hinckley spoke of his recent operation, quipping that he wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
He spoke of his longtime association with Chile and how he originally envisioned a small temple in this country that would become the template for building smaller temples worldwide years later. President Hinckley also recalled a visit he made to Chile while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve during a period of severe drought. Faithful members asked the then-apostle and others to pray for moisture during the visit. The clouds gathered and the rain began to pour.
The temple was closed in January of last year for dramatic renovation and refurbishment in order to meet the high construction standards now common in new temples. A new baptistry supported by the statues of 12 oxen was installed. Other new interior highlights include floor motifs of inlaid Chilean marble and lapislazuli, a native blue stone, in the temple's baptistry and entry way. Rich woodwork frames hallways and raised images of Chile's national flower, the copihue, adorn door handles and art-glass windows. An exterior fountain and lush landscaping add to the placidity of the temple grounds.
For faithful Chilean members, President Hinckley's presence at the Santiago Chile Temple was apt reward following 14 months of renovation and refurbishment. The Church president's dedicatory visit was celebrated as a blessed encore. While a counselor in the First Presidency, President Hinckley presided over the opening of the Chilean temple in September of 1983. It would be the first temple in operation in a Spanish-speaking country — and the opening chapter in what would become a prolific tome of temple building in such nations that continues today. (The Mexico City D.F. Mexico Temple was dedicated a few months later.)
"We tried to put in the minds of the members the idea of remodeling our lives at the same time we were remodeling the temple," said Elder Vinas, who presides over the area presidency. "We asked the members to put their lives in order — to change the things they needed to change. . . . We can see improvements in the faithfulness of the members."
President Hinckley's presence in Chile was apropos, Elder Pratt said.
"It would appear President Hinckley has a special feeling for Chile. He created the first stake in Chile back in 1972, and he was the member of the First Presidency who dedicated the Santiago temple. It's very significant that he is the one who would come and rededicate that same temple."
When it was announced that the temple would be closed for a period, anxious Chileans and Argentinians living in the temple district filled almost every session. Local and general leaders hope that temple-going enthusiasm proves to be the norm. Elder Vinas envisions a new era of growth and development in Chile.
"We can see Chile fulfilling the prophecies of many members of the Quorum of the Twelve, among them Elder Jeffrey R. Holland who served as the area president in Chile for two years," Elder Vinas said.
Faithful members are thrilled the temple has been rededicated and reopened — and moved by President Hinckley's presence despite his recent health troubles. Eduardo Lopez, a member from Casa Blanca some two hours outside of Santiago, said he prayed the man he regards as a prophet would be able to return to Chile for the rededication events.
"It was wonderful to see him and we know our nation will be blessed just because President Hinckley came," Brother Lopez said.
Sergio Buleti, a bishop from Concepcion, said he followed the direction of the area presidency and encouraged the members in his ward to live worthy of the temple and gain a temple recommend, even during the building's closure.
"We remodeled our lives and made them better at the same time the temple was being remodeled so we can enjoy the blessings of the temple."
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