Feelings of joy and gratitude often welled into tears during a three-day celebration in Vienna when 1,100 members of the Church in Austria joined Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve in commemorating 50 years of religious freedom.
Ten years after the end of World War II, Austria was granted freedom from foreign rule with the signing of the Austrian State Treaty on May 15, 1955.
The treaty granted Austrians democratic freedoms and changed the status of freedom of religion. The Church was granted official recognition on Sept. 27, 1955.
Such official recognition granted the Church rights to build and own buildings.
The anniversary, held May 6-8, provided members from the far reaches of the county, including the Dornbirn Ward near the Swiss border, with an opportunity to unite and enjoy the sense of a growing Church membership. It was also a time to express gratitude to the Lord for opening the doors of religious freedom and blessing the land with political freedom.
Elder Perry's two-day visit began by meeting with the president of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer, in the famed Hofburg Palace in the center of historic Vienna.
Accompanied by President Viktor Wadosch of the Vienna Austria Stake, Freddy and Elizabeth Pietsch, national public affairs directors and Elder Perry's wife, Barbara, Elder Perry discussed the Church in Austria and the status of religion in Europe for about 30 minutes.
Elder Perry, who serves as president of the Europe Central Area, then met with reporters from the national television and radio stations who probed him for background of the Church and its tenets. The radio station promptly aired a 12-minute documentary that presented the Church in a supportive and positive light.
Festivities for the general membership of the Church began the evening of May 6 with a grand ball in the Kursalon Hubner near the picturesque Vienna City Park. Members held true to their Austrian traditions by dancing to music of the Waltz King, Richard Strauss.
The next morning, on May 7, following a VIP reception, several notable civic leaders and journalists recognized Elder Perry as a capable and dynamic leader with a commanding personality.
Elder Perry then addressed Church members gathered in the Austria Center, a large meeting hall located near the United Nations complex in Vienna.
After a review of the history of the Church in Austria by Bishop Ernst Husz of the Vienna 5th Ward, Elder Perry emphasized the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the protection it provides. Keeping the commandments will bless the country, he said.
After the meeting, about 700 members walked to Donaupark near the Danube River for an afternoon of eating traditional Austrian meats, salads and grilled chicken while playing games.
About 800 members met for worship services on Sunday, May 8, in the Bcklinstrasse stake meetinghouse. With the chapel filled to capacity, members heard the testimonies of the four most recent mission presidents, including Michael Schulze, Ned Mangelson, Swen Swensen and Kenneth Reber.
"This was the highlight of my life as a member of the Church in Austria," said Viktor Hladky, first counselor in the Vienna stake presidency.
"This conference was the most important event in the history of the Church in Austria, and Austria itself," said Elder Johann A. Wondra, Area Seventy and former president of the Vienna stake.
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