President Gordon B. Hinckley has ties to Asian lands and peoples spanning 36 years. During travels May 16-June 2, he revisited some of those lands and renewed long-time acquaintances as he went to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
A brief trip to a country he had never visited, China, was included in his itinerary. The main purpose of his travels to Asia was to dedicate the Hong Kong Temple May 26-27. (See Church News May 26 for a report on his visit to Japan, and June 1 for reports on the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple and President Hinckley's visit to China.)One of the highlights of President Hinckley's recent tour was a visit on May 30 to Manila's American Cemetery and Memorial. At the cemetery, where are buried more than 17,000 U.S. military personnel who died during World War II in the Philippines and other theaters of war in the Pacific, President Hinckley spoke about his associations with Asia and its peoples, particularly members of the Church. The cemetery and memorial, which he referred to as "hallowed ground," is a site for which he has deep feelings, not only for what it represents in the ultimate sacrifice of nations for the cause of freedom, but also for the role it has in the history of the Church in this part of the world.
His initial travels to the Philippines and other parts of Asia began in 1960, first as an Assistant to the Twelve and later as an apostle who had responsibility for the work of the Church in Asia. In May 1961 he, with a small group of Church members - mostly American servicemen and citizens living in Manila - came to the cemetery and war memorial here. On that occasion, he offered a prayer to initiate missionary work in the Philippines. The Philippine Islands, President Hinckley noted during his recent visit to the war memorial, had been dedicated earlier for the preaching of the gospel by President Joseph Fielding Smith.
Only one Filipino member of the Church was known to live in the Philippines at the time then-Elder Hinckley initiated missionary work here. The Church owned no property then in the Philippines. Today, there are more than 370,000 members of the Church in the Philippines in 47 stakes; the Church owns numerous buildings, including the Manila Philippines Temple, for which President Hinckley offered the dedicatory prayer in September 1984. The missionary work he initiated has blossomed: there are 14 missions in the Philippines today.
"This place [American Cemetery] was so meaningful in terms of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which gives assurance of the immortality of the soul, that we just felt that it would be a nice place . . . to open the work here, to invoke the blessings of the Lord, which we were setting out to do," President Hinckley said at the memorial May 30.
President Hinckley spoke of the work and members in the Philippines and in the rest of Asia practically in the same breath, making no distinctions as he expressed his love for the peoples of these lands.
President Hinckley was accompanied throughout his travels by his wife, Marjorie, and by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Elisa. President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Frances, joined President and Sister Hinckley in Hong Kong and China, as did Elder Neal A. Maxwell, of the Quourm of the Twelve, and his wife, Colleen.
Joining President Hinckley in various countries were members of area presidencies: Elder David E. Sorensen and his first counselor, Elder Sam K. Shimabukuro of the Asia North Area; Elder Kwok Yuen Tai and his counselors, Elders John H. Groberg and Rulon G. Craven of the Asia Area; and Elder Ben B. Banks and his counselors, Augusto A. Lim and Kenneth Johnson of the Philippines/Micronesia Area. Wives of the leaders also participated in events in their areas: Verla Sorensen, Amy Michiko Shimabukuro; Hui Hua Tai, Jean Groberg, Donna Craven, Susan Banks, Myrna Lim and Pamela Johnson.
Before returning to Salt Lake City, Elder Wirthlin told the Church News: "None of today's General Authorities has traveled more extensively in Asia than President Hinckley. He is a pathfinder for Asia, a pioneer. He is the first General Authority who really covered all of Asia, including the Philippines, to the point that he understood their problems and was able to give the leadership to really open up the gospel to be presented to millions."
Elder Wirthlin noted that President Hinckley, 85, during the Asian travels exhibited "tireless energy, quickness of mind, a physical ability to go without sleep for long periods of time and to stand up to a very rigorous journey."
"Rigorous" hardly begins to describe the journey. In the 18 days of his travels - counting flight time to and from Asia - President Hinckley went to 14 cities, in eight countries: Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Naha (Okinawa), Japan; Pusan and Seoul, Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; Hong Kong; Shenzhen, China; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam; Manila and Cebu City, Philippines. In addition, he made an impromptu visit with members and missionaries on Saipan. (See article on page --.)
Some 60,000 people attended meetings where he spoke in Asia. He delivered at least 18 speeches in firesides and special conferences with members and meetings with missionaries. In addition, he presided over seven sessions to dedicate the Hong Kong Temple, delivering speeches and taking turns with President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, in conducting those special services and offering the dedicatory prayer. He also spoke at a special ceremony to seal in place the temple's cornerstone.
In addition, he met with area and local Church leaders, paid a courtesy call on U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale in Tokyo, held press conferences and luncheons with members of the media in Japan and Korea, and attended a reception in Tokyo where he renewed long-time acquaintances. He also attended a formal dinner and a luncheon with dignitaries in Shenzhen, China.
No wonder that members of various congregations made audible gasps when President Hinckley noted that a week after returning to Salt Lake City from his Asian travels he plans to embark upon a two-week trip to Europe, during which he will break ground for the Madrid Spain Temple.
In Manila, the next to the last stop on his official itinerary, he conceded that he got tired during his travels in Asia. But, he said, he just went to bed every night, and then made sure "that I get up the next morning. I just keep going." He said the people gave him "the lift to keep going."
Sister Wirthlin noted that Sister Hinckley "is a perfectly matched traveling companion" for President Hinckley. "Sister Hinckley has been wonderful in the way she has kept pace," Sister Wirthlin said near the end of their journey. "She always is very positive. She never has complained, even though she might be tired.
"She has spoken at most of the meetings, and her talks have been outstanding. She has not used any notes; she's just spoken right from her heart. She has given a lot of good concepts of the gospel and family living. The people have been as delighted and excited to see Sister Hinckley as they have been to see the prophet. She has charmed them, and has received a lot of love from them."
Time and again, President Hinckley expressed love for the peoples of Asia, saying that he felt "something of a kinship" with them. He said he has "spent a lot of time in Asia, tramping up and down this [part of the] world. . . . Sister Hinckley and I have had a wonderful time meeting with these people everywhere. They all express love and we feel a great love for them. It's simply the fellowship of the gospel."