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Sacred hill now site of Tampico temple

TAMPICO, Mexico — Jose Ponce remembers finding respite as a 10-year-old boy at the top of a lush hill about a mile from his home in Tampico's twin city of Ciudad Madero. Locals called the spot "Cerro de Conejos," or Rabbit Hill, because it was thick with hares. Young Jose and his neighbors savored their meat, but most left the animals living along the hill alone.

"That was more than 50 years ago, and I think people simply regarded Rabbit Hill as kind of a sacred place," Brother Ponce said. "I would go there to meditate whenever I had been punished by my parents or when I was sad. It made me feel good just being there."

Brother Ponce, now a patriarch in the Tampico Mexico Bosque Stake, returned to Rabbit Hill on May 20. The area is indeed sacred now — the site of the Tampico Mexico Temple, the Church's 83rd temple. President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided over the dedication and offered the dedicatory prayer. His presence and counsel during the four-session dedication were the happy realization of a dream for thousands of area Church members.

"I was called to be a branch president outside of Tampico about 15 years ago, less then a generation ago, and the Church was still young here," said Gilberto Castillo. "I was so excited that we could fill every teaching position in the branch, only to realize that those callings left us without any students. Now seeing the Church grow to the point where we can build a temple is a joyous blessing."

A few members lived close enough to walk to the Saturday dedication. Others carpooled or arrived in one of Tampico's many taxis. Some traveled with fellow members several hours via bus to this industrial city on central Mexico's Gulf Coast. All endured the stifling heat with a smile and, often, a dish towel to wipe glowing brows.

A collection of voices from the temple cornerstone ceremony choir greeted President Monson as he emerged from the temple to apply mortar to the cornerstone. President Monson warned the Tampico saints that his efforts with trowel and mortar would be the work "of an amateur," reassuring them with a chuckle that experts would be along later to clean up any mess.

Tampico has claimed a special place in President Monson's heart. In 1972, then Elder Monson organized the first Tampico stake.

The promise of a temple has lived long in the hearts of Tampico-area members. About 20 years ago, there was talk that the Church would sell the land where the temple sits today, Patriarch Ponce said. A wise stake president, President Roberto de Leon Perales, reportedly did not want the Church to part with the plot. "President de Leon told us, 'One day, a temple will be built here.' "

Many say the blessings of the temple began filling the area long before the May 20 dedication. Roberto Cruz remembers feeling overwhelmed when he was asked to serve on the local temple dedication committee as the public affairs director.

"I am a humble shoemaker and I wondered, 'Why wasn't someone with more experience or more intellect called to this position?' " Brother Cruz said. "But I have learned from this experience that the Lord qualifies whom He calls and He has been there to help."

His wife, Ana Bertha, said scores of Tampico-area members had contributed much time and effort to prepare the temple for the dedication. They have found joy in service.

"We have joined our hearts, souls and strength together in this work, but it is still humbling to say: 'Lord, this is Thy house,' " Sister Cruz said.

Brendon Baird of Orem, Utah, recently returned home from the Mexico Tampico Mission. Attending the dedication, he said, was a must. His only regret was that the temple had not been built prior to his mission.

"Having a temple will make the blessings of the Church more attainable to everyone in Tampico; it will be a great missionary tool," he said. "The temple is symbolic of the growth of the Church in Tampico. It is a milestone to the maximum."

While many Tampico-area residents said they will be doing temple work for the first time following the dedication, others marveled at the blessings that will come simply from having a temple in their city. Already, the temple has seized the attention of many Tampico residents curious about the beautiful edifice built on old Rabbit Hill.

"The temple is a light," said Madero stake member Manuel Camacho. "An enormous light for Tampico — and the world — to see."

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