LE CHESNAY, France
Elder Matthieu Bennasar was just 3 years old when his father attended a member meeting in Paris, France, and heard then-Church President Spencer W. Kimball share a message with French members: If “we clenched our fists and ground our teeth, a temple will be available to the members here.”
In the process, Church membership in France would “double, even quadruple,” President Kimball promised.
“That is what happened,” said Elder Bennasar, an Area Seventy in the Europe Area.
In the four decades since the 1976 meeting, Church membership in France has grown from 10,000 to almost 40,000.
Most important, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Paris France Temple — the first temple in France and the 156th worldwide — on Sunday, May 21.
“We rejoice with the saints of France and surrounding countries that today a holy house of God is dedicated in your midst — adding an eternal dimension to the beauty of this great and historic part of the Lord’s kingdom,” said President Eyring.
Located within walking distance to the Versailles Palace, the temple stands in a prominent, royal location. The 44,175-square-foot building features limestone reflective of stone used at Versailles and art glass windows reminiscent of French gardens. And because of height limitations, it is one of 10 temples worldwide that does not have an angel Moroni statue.
John Taylor was called on a mission to France in October 1849. Months later he stood on a beach near Boulogne, France, and offered a prayer dedicating the country for the preaching of the gospel. The first congregation of six members was organized in April 1850 in Boulogne-sur-Mer.
President Eyring said the temple represents the “faith of the wonderful members that kept the light of the gospel burning” in France.
Maryvonne Saint-Jean joined the Church in France in 1964; her future husband Daniel Saint-Jean was baptized eight years later in a portable font in the kitchen of a rented home where early members held meetings. In 1974, they traveled to Switzerland to receive patriarchal blessings and then back again to marry in the Swiss Temple. The couple moved to Paris in 1975, the same year members sustained Gérard Giraud-Carrier — now president of the Paris France Temple — as the first president of the Paris France Stake.
“In those days there was an extraordinary group of young adults who were very warm and very welcoming,” said Sister Saint-Jean.
Elder Bennasar said the temple is a tribute to the many Latter-day Saint pioneers — like his parents and the Saint-Jeans — who were “examples of righteous living and enduring to the end.”
“To my knowledge, 1976 was the first time a temple was publicly spoken of in France by a president of the Church,” said Elder Bennasar, local chairman of the Paris France Temple committee.
Still, a temple did not come without some clenched fists and grinding of teeth.
During a meeting in Paris in 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley told Latter-day Saints, “The time will come … when we can construct somewhere in this area a house of the Lord, a sacred temple.”
Thierry Crucy began searching for the true meaning of life in 1971, when he was 20 years old. Two weeks later, missionaries knocked on his door.
He was at the meeting in 1998 when President Hinckley spoke of a temple for Paris. “I took it as a blessing on credit,” he said. “We understood a temple may take time and miracles.”
But in 2004, a temple site had not been found. President Hinckley returned to France and cemented his prophetic promise. “Sometime in the future, a beautiful house of the Lord will grace this land,” he said.
During both the 1998 and the 2004 visits, President Hinckley asked the members to pray that the Lord would direct Church leaders to a site for the temple.
Thomas and Virginie Fournier are second-generation Church members in France. He was 18 years old and singing in the choir during the 1998 meeting when President Hinckley first promised a temple for France.
Talk of a temple in France “was something that became very common,” Brother Fournier said. Everyone knew leaders “were looking for a place.”
While members were waiting for the temple, Church membership in France continued to grow in both numbers and diversity.
Today the Church population reflects the same diversity as the general population in France, said Brother Fournier, a member of the Paris France Stake presidency. “In the Paris Ward you can find over 30 different nationalities,” he said.
Agenor Sohou’s family joined the Church after moving to France from the Ivory Coast when he was 4 years old. Three years later, when his family became less active, Brother Sohou continued to attend Primary. “When I was young, I felt happy when I went to Church,” he explained.
Now he will begin to collect his family history — mostly passed down orally through the generations — so that he can do his ancestors’ work in the Paris France Temple.
Elder Bennasar said much like the 40 years the children of Israel spent journeying to the promised land, the 40 years from President Kimball’s first mention of a temple in France to present day also has great meaning.
The years of waiting for a temple will serve as defining ground for the membership of the Church, said Elder Bennasar. And now French Latter-day Saints will receive “promises, covenants, knowledge and power” in the House of the Lord, he added.
Christophe Mortier, president of the Bordeauz France Stake, joined the Church in May 1976 with his parents. He was 12 years old. “I grew up in the Church the same way the Church grew,” he said.
As a member of the Paris France Temple committee, he compiled 800 testimonies to be placed inside the temple cornerstone. Each was a story “of faith, of courage, of sacrifice,” he said. “When we made the compilation, we understand why we have a temple here in France.”
Leaders participating in the dedication of the Paris France Temple include:
• President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency.
• Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen.
• Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department, and his wife, Sister Lynda Wilson.
• Elder Paul V. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Jill Johnson.
• Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé and his wife, Sister Valérie Caussé.