Elder Cook meets with president of Dominican Republic, speaks at religious freedom symposium during visit to Caribbean island nations

Credit: Nicholas Antonio Johnson
Credit: Nicholas Antonio Johnson
Credit: Nicholas Antonio Johnson
Credit: Nicholas Antonio Johnson
Credit: Teddy Jimenez
Credit: Nicholas Antonio Johnson
Steavy Marie-Angelique
Steavy Marie-Angelique
Steavy Marie-Angelique

Claude Gamiette joined the Church in 1989 in the French Caribbean nation of Guadeloupe. As he entered the waters of baptism he promised the Lord that his life would represent the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Now, almost three decades after his baptism, he listened as Elder Quentin L. Cook — standing on a hill with a panoramic view of the ocean— pronounced a blessing on the island nation.

“This is the dawn of a new day for Guadeloupe,” said Elder Cook.

Elder Gamiette, an Area Seventy and former mission president, said the prayer marks the turning of the page for Guadeloupe. “Truly the doors of the Kingdom of God have been officially opened in Guadeloupe. … We are grateful to the Lord, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to have remembered a small isle of the sea to send a special witness to bless and encourage us. Truly the Lord is mindful of us all.”

Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited the Caribbean Nov. 10 through Nov. 20 — addressing members and missionaries, hosting a young single adult devotional, meeting with government leaders, and speaking at a religious freedom symposium sponsored by Pontifical Catholic University in the Dominican Republic. He was accompanied by his wife, Sister Mary Cook, and members of the Church’s Caribbean Area Presidency and their wives — Elder Walter F. González and Sister Zulma A. González; Elder Claudio D. Zivic and Sister Dina Noemí A. Zivic; and Elder Jose L. Alonso and Sister Rebecca S. Alonso.

Elder Cook said it was a wonderful opportunity to be among the faithful members in isles of the seas.

“We were all blessed by Elder Cook’s visit and teachings,” said Elder González. “His visit helped us to be more focused on our Savior. We were spiritually strengthened by his apostolic testimony. This could be felt in all of our meetings.”

Elder and Sister Zivic had the privilege of welcoming Elder and Sister Cook in the Santiago airport as they began their visit to the area. “Since that moment we felt deeply in our hearts their humility and simplicity, as well as their friendship and love for the country, the people and for us,” he said.

To receive an apostle of the Lord is always a blessing for the area, said Elder Zivic.

“This visit has been recorded in the history of the Caribbean Area and in our hearts in a very special way.”

Elder Alonso said hearts were filled with gratitude that Elder and Sister Cook came to the area to build the Kingdom of God in a simple and promising way.

“We have been edified and strengthened by their teachings, their love, their example and dedicated service,” Elder Alonso said. “We have learned that there are many ways in which we can be a better instrument in the Lord’s hand. We have been impacted by the clear and strong testimony of Elder Cook about the Savior.”

During the trip, Elder Cook met with President Danilo Medina, president of the Dominican Republic.

“The country president was well aware of the work of the Church in the country,” Elder González said. “He was impressed by the growth of the Church in Dominican Republic. The president not only expressed gratitude for the service but for how religion helps people to become good citizens.”

In a separate meeting, Elder and Sister Cook met with First Lady Cándida Montilla de Medina, who had previously visited Salt Lake City. “She expressed gratitude for the Church contributions to her social programs to help the less fortunate in the Dominican Republic,” said Elder González. “She was very pleased with the joint efforts for social programs. She also expressed a desire of visiting our Church here in Santo Domingo.”

Elder González said the Church is well recognized by government leaders in the Dominican Republic — where the Church has 132,000 members and the only temple in the Caribbean. A second temple is under construction in Haiti.

Elder González added that the first Regional Religious Freedom Symposium “helped to educate, inspire, and motivate religious freedom” in the Caribbean Area.

The Church and BYU collaborated in planning and participating in the symposium, hosted by Pontifical Catholic University in the Dominican Republic and attended by representatives from 15 Caribbean nations. The importance of this event was demonstrated by some of its keynote speakers, such as the vice president of the Dominican Republic, the first lady of Guyana and Elder Cook, he said.

“Religious freedom is important throughout the entire world, including in our Caribbean Area,” said Elder González. “Religious freedom is a gift of God.”

While speaking at the “wonderful religious freedom symposium,” Elder Cook said his work to defend religious freedom with those of other faiths has been very rewarding.

“My purpose today is to review the progression of some basic principles that have established religious liberty as part of essential or inalienable rights,” Elder Cook said. “The fundamental right of each individual to live according to his or her faith and beliefs, and as a corollary to protect the religious institutions that provide the essential framework for the promulgation of faith and belief.

“In addition, my challenge is that people of faith need to work together to improve the moral fabric of nations and to protect religious freedom.”

Elder Zivic said this was the first time the symposium was held in the Dominican Republic and noted it was inspiring to have Elder Cook highlight the positive effects that are produced for a country that respects religious freedom.

“We need to always talk about the importance of religious freedom, although we are very blessed that in most of our area we have no problems,” he said.

In Jamaica, Elder Cook answered questions from priesthood leaders via technology. In total, the group was connected by 19 hookups. “It was incredible to answer questions from that many locations,” said Elder Cook.

During the visit, Elder and Sister Cook also witnessed many places that had been impacted by recent hurricanes.

“As I spoke with individuals there, I was struck by their resiliency,” said Elder Cook. “I admire their attitudes to get up, go to work, and keep going despite the devastation they have witnessed. … I testify that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers all of the trials and hardships that any of us will encounter in this life. He is there, and we are safe in His loving arms.”

Elder González said members affected by the hurricanes in the Caribbean Area — including hardest hit areas of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas and other islands — are recovering. “Homes are being repaired and food and other needs have been provided for their well-being. Many have left for the United States; some have lost their jobs. But the good news is that the recovery efforts are bringing many jobs opportunities for them. They are in good spirits, considering the level of destruction.

“Our members have shown an extraordinary faith.”

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