COLONIA Juaréz, Mexico Members from across the broad width of northern Mexico rejoiced March 6-7 at the dedication of the Colonia Juaréz Chihuahua Temple, Mexico's newest temple in its oldest stake.
For many, the dedication of the Church's 55th temple, dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley, is a "glorioso" symbol of the future as eight additional temples are being or soon will be built in this, the most populous LDS nation outside the United States.
The temple has given a new appearance to the well-shaded panorama of this 1885 Mormon colony. The temple, swathed in light by day and night on the hilltop above Juaréz Academy, has an exterior of white marble so brilliant that it seems to shine with a luminescence of its own.
Surprise at having a temple in a place that is 15 miles from a main road in a community with a population of 1,000 still lingers among the LDS residents of the colonies. However, the temple itself fits among the landscape and buildings like a long-awaited keystone of an arch, and has brought with it a sense of completeness.
The four temple dedicatory sessions were attended by 4,932 members, including residents of Colonia Juaréz and Colonia Dublan, located 15 miles away. Others attending were those with roots in the colonies from the United States and Church members from cities in many places of northern Mexico. Nine buses from such cities as Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregon, Torreon and Chihuahua lined the parking area alongside the 102-year-old Juaréz Academy.
Local members and visitors warmly welcomed President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and their wives, Marjorie Hinckley and Donna Packer. President Hinckley spoke and gave the dedicatory prayer in each of the four sessions. Because the colonies were experiencing a drought, a petition for rain was included in the dedicatory prayer. Before the last bus left after the final dedicatory session Sunday March 7, the first rain drops began falling.
Also taking part in the dedication services was Elder Eran A. Call of the Seventy and president of the Mexico North Area, who lives in Monterrey and is a frequent visitor to the site. A son of Bishop Anson Call of Colonia Dublan, who was notable in the history of the colonies, Elder Call was joined by his oldest sister Lorna Call Alder, 92, and brother Ara O., 89, and another sister, Ruth Call Evans.
The oldest person attending the dedication was Clarence Turley, nearly 99, whose memories precede the Mexican Revolution. The early days of the colonies were often mentioned. In fact, the excitement at the dedication was so enthusiastic and the choir singing so fervent that it was as though the booming voices of past generations had joined in.
In comments to the Church News following the third dedicatory session, President Hinckley, President Packer and Elder Call spoke about the dedication.
President Hinckley was warm in his praise of those of the colonies, past and the present.
"The Mormon colonies of northern Mexico are a peculiar and remarkable institution," he told the Church News. "Our people came down here in the mid1880s about 1884-85 and established themselves in this part of the country. Then they suffered greatly when the revolution came in 1912.
"They left the country, most of them, and then they returned, and the revolution returned in 1914. There were the Pancho Villa revolutionaries, and the [Venustiano] Carranza revolutionaries [in conflict], and they became victims of both sides. It was 1917 before they really had peace here.
"Since then, those who lived here have lived remarkable lives. They don't have the number of colonists they once had. Those who are here, [however] are extremely faithful.
"Some of them have left to go away to school and for other reasons, but they always look back to Colonia Juaréz and Colonia Dublan as their roots and they love to come back here they gather as we have seen them do at this dedication, not only from Utah, but also in large numbers from Arizona, New Mexico, California and all through that area. They love this part of the world and they gather together as families with a great appreciation in their hearts for their roots here, and for their forebears who were so valiant and faithful in the work of the Church in this part of the world."
President Packer, who has an ancestor buried in an unmarked grave in the Colonia Juaréz cemetery, also praised the colonists.
"This temple is the result of the work of those who went before, and while it is a fulfillment and a fruition, it is also certainly a great beginning in this beautiful valley where the Saints have been so faithful, and have sent mission president after mission president. Ninety mission presidents from these two stakes have gone out to preach the gospel, and innumerable missionaries.
"They have undergone sacrifice for generations, and now the Lord has blessed them with a House of the Lord."
Elder Call, who was reared in Colonia Dublan, which now has a population of about 1,500, noted that "it was just a year ago, on March 7, 1998, that we had a groundbreaking on this hill overlooking this beautiful little town.
"Now, one year later, to participate in the open house and dedicatory service of this beautiful temple is a thrill and a joy."
He said that "to know that we have three other temples under construction in the Mexico North Area is just a blessing we didn't anticipate or dream of. The Saints will be lifted; the Saints will rise to the occasion and make themselves worthy if they aren't now, to enjoy the blessings of a temple."
He also spoke of the 10,870 who went through the temple open house, including Chihuahua Gov. Patricio Martinez and former Gov. Francisco Barrio and their wives. "They sensed a very beautiful spirit. It was my privilege to explain to them the different parts of the gospel."
Elder Call said, "I am thrilled to be here and grateful for this opportunity to serve in the country where I was born, and in the land I love, among its beautiful people."
Former president of the Colonia Juaréz Mexico Stake who was called as temple president, Pres. Meredith I. Romney said that when he received a phone call from President Hinckley and was told that a temple had been approved for the colonies, "I got a lump in my throat to think that maybe we would get a temple."
He said that the new temple was timely because "a few months after the announcement of this temple, they closed us down at the border," changing policy and "no longer allowing people without passports to enter the United States."
This temple, he said, will strengthen the membership in the temple district. Many of these have been to the Arizona Temple on stake temple excursions.
"When we went on a temple excursion to the Arizona Temple in Mesa, we could just feel the unity of the people for several months after they came back. I am sure this temple will give them an opportunity to re-charge their batteries more frequently.
"Now that we have a temple here, we can do that as often as we'd like."
Pres. Lester Johnson, an orchardist and descendant of early colonist Joel Hills Johnson, was recently called to succeed Pres. Romney as stake president. He and his wife, Debra, are the parents of five children, all adopted from Mexico.
"To me the temple is still almost unbelievable," he said. "I just hope we can remain with this kind of enthusiasm. I hope that we can just keep feeling the spirit that the temple brings."
He said that as the temple neared completion, "we have had 50 or 100 people up here at a time, doing ground work, sanding, helping clean. It was great working side by side. It has helped unify our people even more."
He said that while "the struggles in Mexico have been many and people have sacrificed a lot to live here and remain here, it has paid off in many ways. What a blessing it is to be able to raise our children in a situation like this where they attend a Church school, and live in a community where the 'in thing' is to do good and be good it is a real blessing."
He said that through the open house, many local non-members have learned for the first time about the Church's teachings of baptism for the dead and family sealings that go on in temples, and the non-members are very impressed with the concepts.
"I think it will have a big impact," he said. "The Church has invested a tremendous amount in the colonies. We are going to have to put in our total effort to move the work along. That is the only way we can express our appreciation."
Another colonist, S. Keith Bowman, 78, of Colonia Dublan, a lifetime member of the colonies who served as a missionary in many areas of Mexico and is now stake patriarch, noted that a lot of members are preparing to attend the temple.
"I was very pleased and humbled to think that of all the places in the world where there are more people, that the Lord and President Hinckley would give us a temple here. And when they started spreading temples throughout Mexico, that was a great thing also."
He said that "it has been interesting to notice that even before the temple was announced here, a lot of the patriarchal blessings mentioned that members would be able to find their ancestors, and that their ancestors were waiting anxiously to receive the blessings of the temple. Some were also told that they would be called to work in the temple. Now they will have that opportunity that they couldn't have had before."