Near where the Mormon Battalion traversed nearly 169 years ago and in land rich with diversity, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, presided at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Tucson Arizona Temple and offered a dedicatory prayer Saturday morning, Oct. 17.
“We are grateful to be here,” President Uchtdorf told the audience, who pulled out umbrellas during a brief rain at the start of the program. He said he had volunteered to come for the groundbreaking ceremony because of his family’s ties to Arizona and pilot training he had received here.
“We have a very personal relationship to Arizona,” he said. “We love Arizona.”
The seven-acre site for the temple is in the Catalina Foothills in north Tucson, Arizona’s second largest city, and about 115 miles southeast of Phoenix. The temple, located where East Ina Road curves into Skyline Drive, will overlook the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and the Tucson metro area, home to nearly a million residents and more than 30,000 Church members.
President Uchtdorf noted the diversity of the area, which is about 60 miles north of the Mexico border, from Native Americans, Latinos and pioneers, to others who make the community what it is today.
“You are a marvelous community of people, sticking together with a diversity of history, cultures and people,” he said during his remarks.
He referred to the Mormon Battalion, which was organized to help in the Mexican-American War, passing through the area in 1846.
On the 150th anniversary of that event, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated a Mormon Battalion monument in downtown Tucson at the El Presidio Park.
“Tucson was one of [the battalion’s] very important stops,” President Hinckley said at that time. “The erection of this monument becomes a memorial to their courage, to their valor and their … marching ever westward to build a road to California.”
According to Church historical records, the battalion’s trek across Arizona eventually led to many pioneer settlements and 33 members of the group returned to participate in the colonization of the territory.
Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy and Executive Director of the Church’s Temple Department spoke during the program and referred to some of his ancestors and their experiences in the area.
“You are rugged, tough folk who live down here in the desert,” he said, noting generations who, since the earliest Mormon settlers, sacrificed to establish a community and to be temple-worthy.
“No longer will Tucson be a place where people go from to go to the temple,” he said. “Now the people will come to Tucson to attend the temple.”
Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy encouraged members to consider friends, neighbors and co-workers whom they can invite once the temple is completed and the open house is held.
“As we participate in today’s groundbreaking ceremony, may we not only look down to the earth that is going to be turned but also turn our thoughts heavenward in prayer that the Lord will turn the hearts of thousands,” he said, “that they may be touched by the house of the Lord that will be constructed on this sacred ground.”
In the dedicatory prayer, President Uchtdorf said: “We have come together with joyful hearts and with a feeling of overwhelming gratitude to participate in the groundbreaking for a house of the Lord, even to prepare for the construction of a sacred temple in Tucson, Arizona.”
He continued: “Heavenly Father, our hearts are filled with gratitude and love for Thee and Thy Son. Thou knowest the rejoicing of those who have lived here and who prepared the way for the expansion of Thy work in this area. Many have already gone beyond, just a step beyond our view. Wilt Thou, Heavenly Father, grant that they will be aware of this supernal moment and that we may be true to the heritage which is ours, true to the trust vested in us, true to Thee, and true to the work.”
Others on the program included Tucson Arizona Rincon Stake President A. Cole Thies, who offered the invocation; Gary D. Rasmussen, groundbreaking committee chairman; and Suzy Kartchner of the Tucson Arizona West Stake, who offered the benediction.
President Thomas S. Monson, at the October 2012 general conference, announced plans for a temple to be built in Tucson.
Gary H. Lundstrom, former Tucson Arizona North Stake president and current stake patriarch, recalled the joy and excitement that came at the announcement.
“There were a lot of phone calls, texts, and a lot of tears,” he said. “The day had finally come for a temple here.”
Eight stakes will be in the temple district: Tucson Arizona, Tucson Arizona East, Tucson Arizona North, Tucson Arizona West, Tucson Arizona Rincon, Sahuarita Arizona, Sierra Vista Arizona, and St. David Arizona.
More than 700 people attended the ceremony and the event was broadcast to local meetinghouses. A multi-stake choir provided the music. After the formal ceremony and dedicatory prayer, all attending were invited to take a turn holding a shovel and turning over dirt.
Plans for the two-story, 34,000-square-foot temple conforms to local zoning requirements and, instead of a steeple, the mission-style design includes a cupola.
After the ceremony, President Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, greeted guests and media.
As he spoke to reporters, President Uchtdorf noted that prior to 2002, when the Snowflake Arizona Temple was dedicated, Arizona’s only temple was in Mesa, which was originally dedicated in 1927. Tucson will be Arizona’s sixth temple in a state where there are approximately 400,000 Church members.
“The work is growing,” he said. “It is moving forward.”
“The Lord is blessing those who desire to follow His path and that’s what is happening here,” he said. “Arizona is a very special place, and it has a great responsibility in building the kingdom.”