BRASILIA, Brazil — During a special session, the Brazil Chamber of Deputies, similar to the U.S. House of Representatives, recognized the 159th anniversary of the Relief Society as more than 300 Relief Society members attended the March 20 session. The event was televised live throughout the nation.
Invited to participate with government leaders were Elder Cesar A. S. Milder of the Seventy, an Area Authority Seventy; and President George Mavromatis and Sister Selma Mavromatis of the Brasil Brasilia Mission. Sister Jandira de Oliveira Lima, one of the first women baptized in Brasilia, sat on the stand with Aecio Neves, president of the Chamber of Deputies, a position equivalent to the U.S. Speaker of the House.
Federal deputies from various states of the country gave speeches praising and giving thanks to the Church and the Relief Society for their services, not only to the cities in Brazil, but to all communities around the world.
Those speakers included Aecio Neves, and deputies Moroni Torgan, Elias Murad, Marco Cintra, Alberto Fraga, Joao Grandoa, Magno Malta, Vanderley Martins and Ubiratan Aguiar. Of all the deputies in the chamber, the only Church member is Deputy Torgan, from the Brazilian state of Ceara.
In his remarks, President Neves summarized the history of the Relief Society beginning in Nauvoo, Ill., on March 17, 1842, noting that Margaret Cook and Sarah Kimball sewed clothes for the brethren who were building the Nauvoo Temple. President Neves also highlighted the relevance of that organization "in the construction of a better and more just world."
He thanked the Relief Society sisters in Brazil, stating that since its introduction in the country in 1935, the organization's members have been a great example of Christian charity. He concluded by complimenting the Relief Society for its motto, "Charity Never Faileth," and said that the chamber of deputies of Brazil was honored to pay "a just homage" to the Relief Society.
Marcos Cintra, now a federal deputy, was a member of the Sao Paulo City Council in 1998 when he authored the proposal to honor President James E. Faust of the First Presidency as an "Honorary Citizen of Sao Paulo." (See Church News, May 9, 1998.)
"These wonderful women are dedicated to strengthening families," he said. "There has never been so great a need for such a work, in a day in which it is believed that success is incompatible with raising children and other home activities. Caring for a home is one of the most sacred and meaningful roles, not only for women but for men as well.
"My respect for the Relief Society comes from my acknowledgment that this organization is a trend-setter." He concluded, saying: "The work of the Relief Society sisters is not only religious in nature, but rather a work that magnifies all of us, our country, and especially those who stand in so great need of love, charity and dedicated service of all women to their fellow-beings."
Moroni Bing Torgan, a fourth-generation Church member known to his constituents as a crime and corruption fighter, thanked President Neves and the other deputies for their kind words, and stated that he felt touched by them. He cited the Eleventh Article of Faith in paying homage to the Chamber of Deputies as a democratic institution that respects all religions, and so does The Church of Jesus Christ.
He narrated the beginnings of the Church in Brazil, in the city of Ipomeia in the state of Santa Catarina, in 1923. Then, he said: "In 1937, two women and a girl joined the Church and began to attend Relief Society. One of the women was my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Visconti; the other was my grandmother, Vilma Visconti Bing. The girl was my mother, Vilma Bing Torgan."
He asked for a round of applause for Sister Jandira de Oliveira Lima, explaining that she had been a member of the Relief Society since its beginning in Brasilia in 1965. He mentioned the sacrifice of sisters around the world who many times "pay out of their own pockets to help others." He remembered his great-grandmother making quilts for people who were suffering with the very cold temperatures common in the winter in southern Brazil.
The 350,000 women who compose the Relief Society in Brazil have "a love for Brazil that may be equaled, but never surpassed."
After his speech, Representative Torgan was invited by President Neves to serve as "President pro-tempore" for the remainder of the special session.
The members of the Church in attendance at the meeting sang the Brazilian National Anthem with respect, reverence and enthusiasm that was especially touching to dignitaries who were used to hearing the anthem over and over.
Sister Lima, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1923, joined the Church in Brasilia in 1965. She used to walk by the construction site of the first meetinghouse in Brasilia. When she and her late husband were invited to the dedication, she was "so impressed with the good feeling in that meeting" that she decided to join the Church.
She felt overwhelmed with the honor of being chosen to sit at the lecturn of the assembly room.
"I never imagined that an ordinary woman like me would represent the Relief Society sisters," she said.
Luiz Csar Lima Costa, a Church member who works in the Brazilian Congress, observed: "In my 29 years of membership in the Church, I don't believe that there has ever been an event so meaningful and positive to the image of the Church in Brazil as this special session in the Chamber of Deputies."
Translation provided by Marcus H. Martins, associate professor of religion, BYU-Hawaii; and Jay B. Hinton and Guilherme S. Jardim