PRAIA, Cabo Verde — On Jan. 12, 2004, a jet carrying President Gordon B. Hinckley and then-Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles landed on the Cabo Verde island of Sal, refueling on the return flight to Salt Lake City the day after President Hinckley had dedicated the Accra Ghana Temple.
During the flight’s pause, the two met with members of the Sal Branch in a room at the refueling service center. It wasn’t President Hinckley’s first time in Cabo Verde — he had made a more formal visit on Feb. 22, 1998, speaking to 780 Cabo Verdean Latter-day Saints on a previous return trip from Africa.
For the Republic of Cabo Verde — a relatively young nation composed of 10 islands in two volcanic archipelagos more than 350 miles off the coast of western Africa — a visit by any one of the Church’s senior Brethren was rare. For this brief moment, two were in their presence.
During that stopover, President Hinckley offered words of encouragement to the local Latter-day Saints, underscoring the importance of faithfulness. He pointed to the members in Ghana, whose faith and works had led to a temple in their country; similar faith could lead those in Sal to have their own meetinghouse.
That day has been etched in the minds and souls of the Sal Saints and inscribed in journals and diaries, with photographs of the meeting still framed in homes and found in scrapbooks.
Fourteen years later, the accompanying Apostle became President of the Church. And in his first year of leadership, he announced another Church building for Cabo Verde — a new temple to be built in the capital city of Praia.
Church’s roots there begin in 1988
In November 1988, President Marion K. Hamblin of the Spain Las Palmas Mission visited Cabo Verde to explore the possibility of missionary work there. Two months later, he sent a pair of elders to Santiago, with Lino Paulo the first convert baptized. In late June 1989, the Praia Branch in Cabo Verde’s capital city was organized with two dozen members.
In September 1994, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited the islands and was invited to meet the republic’s president, Antonio Mascarenhas, and Jacinto Santos, Praia’s mayor. He described the missionary program and explained Church doctrine during their visits.
By then, less than six full years since the mission president’s initial visit, Church membership had reached 2,500.
And in dedicating Cabo Verde on Sept. 14 for the preaching of the gospel, Elder Oaks “turned the key for the blessings of heaven” for the land and all of the Lord’s servants who labor in it, that the gospel may be proclaimed to all upon the islands, that all may have the opportunity to accept it and, “if they choose to do so, to receive the ordinances of salvation and to make the covenants that open the windows of heaven for blessings unlimited.”
By that time, there were 50 Cabo Verdeans who had been called to serve full-time missions, most working in Portugal. Meanwhile, 48 missionaries from the Portugal Lisbon South Mission were serving in Cape Verde.
In 1998, at the time of President Hinckley’s first visit, Cabo Verde was home to three districts and 18 branches. Four years later, the three districts remained — in Praia, Fogo and Mindelo — when missionary work became headquartered not in Lisbon but on the islands, with the First Presidency announcing in March 2002 the creation of the Cape Verde Praia Mission.
A year later in 2003, membership had reached nearly 6,000 Latter-day Saints on the islands.
The 2004 refueling stop
Enroute to and from Ghana for the 2004 temple dedication, President Hinckley and Elder Nelson visited with Saints at several refueling stops — St. Kitts in the Caribbean on the way there, and Cabo Verde and St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands on the return.
On the island of Sal, President Hinckley’s remarks were translated into Portuguese by President Daryl Hobson of the Cape Verde Praia Mission.
“You are here by yourselves on this island far from Church headquarters, but still in sight of Heavenly Father,” President Hinckley told the Sal Branch members. “You can enjoy the Holy Spirit as much as we can in Salt Lake City. You can pray to Him with assurance that He will hear and answer your prayers. I hope you will always be prayerful, every morning and night, and thank the Lord for His blessing and for a true understanding of the gospel. Ask that He will bless you to be productive and to have a good life in every respect.
“You are important in His sight,” he added. “You are His sons and daughters, sons and daughters of God. How very, very important that it.”
President Hinckley encouraged them to read their scriptures in order to become well acquainted with the doctrine of Christ “so your little boys will grow up to be missionaries of the Church.” He encouraged them to pay their tithing so they could receive the Lord’s blessings for obedience. “If you pay your tithing, He will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon you.”
He continued: “Share the gospel. Tell your friends about the Church. Let them see the difference it has made in you, how happy you are as members of the Church. Make the Church grow here so you will become a strong branch of the Church. Let’s grow strong, so we can have a building of our own. We need a building, and it will come.”
He cited the rapid expansion of the Church in Ghana, with its new temple and stake center, as an example of the way growth came.
When asked to speak to the Sal Branch members, Elder Nelson said, “I have only three words: Follow the prophet. That’s my speech.”
What the local members remember
Lucy Lopes wrote in her journal of “the prophet’s passage to this island” in her Jan. 12, 2004, entry.
“Today, it was special,” she wrote. “For the second time, we had the opportunity to see and hear the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, accompanied by his wife [Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley], the Apostle Russell M. Nelson and others. I’m still in the clouds. I can’t describe my emotion when the plane that brought the prophet landed at the Amical Cabral Airport — it seemed that my heart would go out.
“As soon as he entered the room, we sang Hymn No. 9, 'We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,'" Lopes’ journal entry continues. “I can’t describe the spirit that reigned; our voices sounded like the voice of angels, and tears rolled down the faces of almost everyone present. His image is really the image of Christ. His voice is the voice of God.
“His message was short but direct: Follow the prophet and read the Book of Mormon. I was able to touch him and greet him. I will never forget that day. My whole body still shakes, an incredible experience.”
Isabel Ramos told the Church News of the “day of great joy and spirit” when she and her family were able to personally meet President Hinckley.
“Being able to see and hear the prophet was inspiring, they are memories of the promise made that will accompany us for a lifetime,” she said. “I thank the Lord for the opportunity to have this blessing. I testify that this gospel is true and that we are guided by living prophets called by the Lord.”
Maria João Lima, of the Sal 2nd Branch, remembers “as if it were today” learning that she and other Latter-day Saints in Sal would spend a few moments with President Hinckley at the airport.
“I saw light in every face I observed in that room, where we awaited the arrival of the prophet and the other leaders who accompanied him. The anxiety was so great when we saw the plane that was bringing them,” she recently told the Church News, President Hinckley’s long walk from the jet and members moving to the front to greet him.
“Touching the prophet’s hand was something inexplicable — there was so much joy, but no one took longer than necessary so everyone could greet him. We wanted to hear him, listen to him. His still and delicate voice filled our souls, every word was a blessing ... his sweet voice blessing us, blessing the people of Cape Verde, promising that Cape Verdeans would be a blessed people, that the Church would grow greatly.”
With the jet refueled and time for the leaders to depart, the Sal Saints waved until their visitors had boarded the plane, not feeling sadness but rather filled “with glory and hope,” Lima said. “We had known and touched the prophet; we spoke with the prophet. We saw and felt his love for each of us. We also showed our love for him, his wife and each brother who accompanied them.”
For many days, the Sal Branch members spoke of the meeting, each testifying of how he or she had felt, she added. “Joy was visible in each of us. We were full of light.”
14 years later
Fast forward to January 2018: Following the passing of President Thomas S. Monson, President Nelson was set apart as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He initiated his first world ministry in April of that year, making stops across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
That same month, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was touring the Church’s Europe Area, spending time on several Cabo Verde islands. By that time, Cabo Verde was home to three stakes, two districts and more than 14,000 Latter-day Saints. While on the islands, Elder Rasband conducted conferences, called on government officials and made humanitarian visits.
“There have been very few visits to Cape Verde by members of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve,” said Elder Paul V. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy who accompanied Elder Rasband. “In fact, on two of the islands Elder Rasband visited, it was the first time in history that an Apostle had been there. The members flocked to the meetings, which filled to overflowing the meetinghouses so that many stood outside in the dark near open windows straining to hear Elder Rasband speak.”
At the time, Elder Johnson was serving as president of the Europe Area. Because of its past alignment with Portugal and its language, Cabo Verde has been assigned by the Church to European areas rather than African ones over the years.
Recognizing that his visit was at the same time as President Nelson’s ministry, Elder Rasband said he was sharing what the prophet was teaching, hoping to echo his inspired words. He underscored “God loves you,” “the Savior loves you” and “the temple.”
“I tried to create for them the image of a multi-generational, temple-sealed family that spans generations,” Elder Rasband said after returning in 2018. “They loved that. They loved getting the feeling that they are not just living their lives for them — they are living their lives for their posterity.”
Latter-day Saints on Cabo Verde have long struggled the long distances and excessive costs to go to the temple to do temple ordinances for themselves and their ancestors. For the past two decades, the Madrid Spain Temple was the closest in proximity, but because of the difficulty of getting there or to other European countries, many members were traveling to Recife, Brazil, to attend the temple.
While access to the temples remained limited in 2018, Elder Rasband encouraged Church members to always “be recommended” of the Lord to go to the temple and to have a “vision of the future.”
He continued: “Where there is no vision, the people perish. They need to know that Cape Verde is important to the Lord, and it is going to continue to grow and prosper, and the Church will help [elevate] their own country.”
The following year, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the Lisbon Portugal Temple in September 2019, bringing a new temple to within just a four-hour flight from Praia. But just a few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of the temples worldwide and limited, gradual reopenings, which impacted Latter-day Saints in Cabo Verde as well as across the globe.
June 19, 2022 — a historic day
In a span of less than 35 years, the Church on Cabo Verde has grown from one convert to a membership of more than 16,000 and from one small branch in Praia to four stakes, several additional districts and 41 congregations. Add to that the new Praia Cape Verde Temple, which will be dedicated Sunday, June 19, 2022, by Elder Andersen.
The connections of Church leaders with Cabo Verde continue to mesh — beyond President Nelson, the aforementioned “accompanying Apostle” in 2004 who announced a temple to be built in Praia.
The Apostle who dedicated the island nation in 1994? He’s now President Oaks, the first counselor in the First Presidency. The Seventy who offered the temple’s groundbreaking prayer in 2019, signaling the start of construction? That would be Elder Johnson.
And even Elder Andersen has prior connections to Cape Verde. He was serving in the Europe Area presidency as a General Authority Seventy when the country was dedicated and can recount details of Elder Oaks traveling to Cabo Verde.
Elder Andersen is making his second visit to Cabo Verde, having toured the mission there and met with members there in 1997 at the end of his service in the Europe Area. He remembers arriving on one island on a plane that landed alongside a smoldering volcano, he recalls the goodness of and warm receptions from civic leaders and Church members.
As he and his travel group came into one town, “the children were running alongside the cars, just waving and happy and welcoming to us,” said Elder Andersen, who didn’t speak Portuguese then but has since learned the language during a subsequent area assignment in Brazil. He dedicated the Lisbon temple in that language.
Meanwhile, the dedication of the Praia Cape Verde has long-time members in Sal remembering that special January 2004 day, when they were greeted and counseled by the then-current Church president and a future Church president. Today, rather than one branch on the island, there are four branches — and the hope that the Espargos district will become a stake in the not-too-distant future.
And while Sal Island still lacks a Church-built meetinghouse and uses instead rented buildings as chapels, the Sal Saints are mindful of the blessings of rare visits by senior Brethren and now having a temple in their island nation.
“For me, it’s important to have a living Apostle here in my country because it makes me think about the love that our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ have for His people here on earth, even those who are in the islands of the sea,” said Onick Tavares de Pina Garcia of the Praia 4th Ward of the Praia Cape Verde Stake. “It’s important for me to know that Heavenly Father wants to instruct the people of Cape Verde through His Apostles, even the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil.”
Added Maria João Lima, linking the 2004 visit in Sal to the new temple in Praia: “Today I understand better the promises made by the prophet, because we have a temple in Cape Verde where we can do ordinances and feel closer to God and Jesus Christ and be able to receive countless blessings.”
Editor's note: In a previous version, Isabel Ramos' comments were incorrectly attributed to someone else.