Church roots remembered in Mexico

A "wonderful and warm" reunion between descendants of early Church members and early missionaries was held here Nov. 20-25.

About 45 people, joined occasionally by up to 200 more, spent the week touring Church history sites, attending dinners and firesides, and renewing their acquaintance with the history of the Church in Mexico as part of the pioneer sesquicentennial celebration.The group visited such sites of early branches as Tecalco and Amecameca near Mexico City, San Gabriel Ometoxtla in the state of Puebla, and San Marcos and Santiago Tesontlale in the state of Hidalgo.

"Some of these communities are now blessed by having six generations of Mormons," said Fernando R. Gomez, co-founder and president of the Museum of Mormon History in Mexico, which sponsored the reunion.

The visitors were welcomed with "feasts of food, brotherly love, testimonies, hymn singing and dances," said Brother Gomez.

Among those who attended was Amelita Monroy de Parra, 92, the only surviving daughter of early San Marcos Branch president, Rafael Monroy. Pres. Monroy and a trusted friend, Vicente Morales, who were local residents, were executed in 1915 during the Mexican Revolution when they refused to renounce their Church membership.

One of the oldest acquaintances renewed came when Sister Monroy visited with H. Clark Fails, 83, of Orem, Utah. He became acquainted with the Monroy family in 1935 while he studied Spanish at the Obrera University in Mexico City. The friendship was renewed a decade later when he served as a counselor in the Mexico Mission presidency while serving as a missionary.

Brother Fails was overwhelmed with the reunion. "It was fantastic," he said. As the reunion began, "I walked into the museum and saw about 30 figures [made from lifesize photographs]. In that group, I saw [a photograph of] myself standing there; it was a shock. I was so overcome I couldn't talk."

He said that when he served in the Mexico Mission presidency with Pres. Arwell L. Pierce in 1946, "there were about 3,000 members in Mexico and Central America. Now there are 800,000 in Mexico alone. There are more stakes in Mexico now than there were in the world when I was on my mission in Mexico."

In visiting the towns where small branches were established in the 1940s, Brother Fails found the Church had grown considerably. "In Amecameca, where we had very a small branch, there are now two wards, and they are about to organize a third. In San Gabriel Ometoxtla, the village has grown to a population of 3,000 and it has three wards. When I was there, it was a very small branch. This village was the home of early missionary and leader Narcisso Sandoval, whom I knew when I was on my mission.

"We visited San Marcos, the home of the martyrs. There was a small branch then, and now there are two wards. We visited the graves where Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales are buried."

One of the 1940s missionaries, Lois Glad Anderson, said: "This has been an incredible journey through the early history of the Church in Mexico. I feel privileged to meet again with Saints here and to have been in the company of descendants of the early members of the Church. It is hard to express the joy of this celebration of the pioneers of the Church here."

Also in the group were five descendants of James Z. Stewart. He was one of the five original missionaries who in the 1870s took copies of translated selections of the Book of Mormon to Mexico. The missionaries carried their materials on pack horses. Elder Stewart later helped with the first complete translation of the Book of Mormon.

At the reunion, older members in Mexico passed down stories they'd heard about the first missionaries. One such descendant, Sybil Stewart, said, "It is wonderful to feel the love and respect members here feel for James Z. Stewart and his fellow missionaries."

Visitors noticed the number of new meetinghouses in the areas where the Church took early root in Mexico. However, one meetinghouse built by the members in Santiago Tesontlale in the 1940s is still in use.

They also noticed the spirituality of the members in the area. "I saw great LDS congregations that Utah bishops would envy," said Boyd Stewart, a grandson of James Z. Stewart. "Reverence, quiet attention, neat and appropriate dress are all attributes found here in abundance. These are truly great Latter-day Saints."

Local members whose forebears were among the first to join the Church were also impressed with their visitors.

"To see the faces of the descendants of the pioneer Mexican missionaries behind the names I have read so much about is wonderful," said Ignacia Perez, whose ancestors living at the foot of Mt. Popocatepetl joined the Church in the previous century.

"The descendants are real - I saw and embraced them."

Two early missionaries from Monterrey, Mexico, Maria Antonia Saldana and her sister Manuelita, also attended the reunion.

"To see where the Church had its first roots in Mexico, and seeing where members have given their lives for the Church further strengthened my testimony," said Maria Antonia.

"To be here in the heart of Mormon history in Mexico is a dream come true," said Manuelita.

Firesides recounting the history of the Church in the area were held in each of the locations. One local member, Efrain Sandoval Avila, commented, "It is wonderful to feel the pioneer spirit through our historical journey."

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