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Youth celebration depicts cultural history of eastern Arizona

'Tonight will be a night you will never forget'

THATCHER, Ariz.

More than 1,600 youth draped in white capes stood on the football field at Eastern Arizona College stadium on May 22 and watched as a replica Angel Moroni — holding his horn aloft — was hoisted high into the air.

President Thomas S. Monson and President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, greet some of the more than 1,600 youth who participated in The Gila Valley Arizona Temple youth cultural celebration May 22.
President Thomas S. Monson and President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, greet some of the more than 1,600 youth who participated in The Gila Valley Arizona Temple youth cultural celebration May 22. Photo: Gerry Avant, Church News
In the final moments of The Gila Valley Arizona Temple cultural celebration, 1,600 youth draped in white capes stand on the football field at Eastern Arizona College stadium and watch as a replica Angel Moroni is hoisted high into the air.
In the final moments of The Gila Valley Arizona Temple cultural celebration, 1,600 youth draped in white capes stand on the football field at Eastern Arizona College stadium and watch as a replica Angel Moroni is hoisted high into the air. Photo: Gerry Avant, Church News

The scene was a fitting end to a production staged to celebrate the dedication of The Gila Valley Arizona Temple — the Church's 132nd temple and the third in Arizona. The youth retold through song, dance and spoken word the rich cultural history of eastern Arizona. In the final moments of the show, they became the foundation stones of the temple, standing close together wearing white. A young man representing the Angel Moroni statue, common on most LDS temples — including The Gila Valley Arizona Temple — completed the scene as he rose above the man-made foundation.

President Thomas S. Monson presided at the event. A capacity crowd of more than 3,500 attended the celebration, which was broadcast to LDS meetinghouses in the temple district and other locations in the United States.

President Monson stopped on his way into the stadium to address the crowd. "I love these big events," he said. "No one in the First Presidency or the Twelve advocates these big events more than Tom Monson."

"That's true," said President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, who accompanied President Monson to eastern Arizona.

To the delight of the audience, President Monson and President Eyring sang "Alla en el Rancho Grande" in Spanish.

Speaking to the audience during the program, President Monson said The Gila Valley Arizona Temple is the reason for the gathering.

"It shines as a beacon of righteousness to all who will follow its light," he said.

He told the young people to do their best and not worry if they make a mistake or two. "None of us will notice," he said. "Tonight will be a night you will never forget," he said.

After the program, President Monson stayed and shook hands with as many young people as possible.

Some of the more than 1,600 youth participating in The Gila Valley Arizona Temple youth cultural program celebrate the area's history with song, dance and spoken word.
Some of the more than 1,600 youth participating in The Gila Valley Arizona Temple youth cultural program celebrate the area's history with song, dance and spoken word. Photo: Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
Youth from the Thatcher Arizona Stake celebrate the formation of the St. Joseph Stake Academy, which would later become Eastern Arizona College. The cultural event May 22 was held at the football stadium on the EAC campus.
Youth from the Thatcher Arizona Stake celebrate the formation of the St. Joseph Stake Academy, which would later become Eastern Arizona College. The cultural event May 22 was held at the football stadium on the EAC campus. Photo: Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

Heather Lucero, 17, of the Thatcher 6th Ward, Thatcher Arizona Stake, said she will tell her grandchildren and great-grandchildren about greeting the prophet, if she can find a way to put her feelings into words. Right now, she explained, "I don't even know how.

More than 1,600 Youth participated in The Gila Valley Arizona Temple youth cultural celebration.
More than 1,600 Youth participated in The Gila Valley Arizona Temple youth cultural celebration. Photo: Gerry Avant, Church News

"It was honestly the greatest thing I have ever felt. He is the leader of our Church."

Scenes in the production — titled "The Place Which God for Us Prepared" — highlighted the contributions of Church members in eastern Arizona that have culminated with the building of the temple. For example, teens paid tribute to the Mormon Battalion, the Honeymoon Trail (the six-week round-trip route taken by early Latter-day Saints from the valley to the St. George Temple), cotton farming and canal digging, Eastern Arizona College (the oldest community college in Arizona) and mining. The show also highlighted the life and influence of eastern Arizona's favorite son — President Spencer W. Kimball, 12th president of the LDS Church.

Scenes from youth celebration portray the Hispanic heritage found in eastern Arizona. Scenes from youth celebration portray the Hispanic heritage found in of eastern Arizona.
Scenes from youth celebration portray the Hispanic heritage found in eastern Arizona. Scenes from youth celebration portray the Hispanic heritage found in of eastern Arizona. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

David Lunt, chairman of the event, told the youth during a dress rehearsal to look at the Angel Moroni statue and take a picture of the scene with their heart.

"Photograph this moment with your heart, and it is forever yours," he said. "What a picture."

Youth from the Sierra Vista Arizona Stake celebrate the "Hispanic heritage" of southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico.
Youth from the Sierra Vista Arizona Stake celebrate the "Hispanic heritage" of southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. Photo: Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

Alexandria Alder, 16, of Thatcher 3rd Ward, Thatcher Arizona Stake, said the finale — during which the youth sang the LDS hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints" — was her favorite part of the production. Everyone coming together in that moment, she said, symbolizes "everyone being excited about the temple."

"Everyone we know is doing this (production) together," added Jake Hansen, 18, of the Thatcher 6th Ward, Thatcher Arizona Stake. "Everyone wanted to get into this."

The Gila Valley, they explained, is different than other communities because families have roots in the area that run very deep.

"Everyone has been waiting so long for the temple," Alexandria said. "So many families are celebrating together."

Members of the St. David Arizona Stake offer a "patriotic tribute" during youth cultural celebration at Eastern Arizona College on May 22.
Members of the St. David Arizona Stake offer a "patriotic tribute" during youth cultural celebration at Eastern Arizona College on May 22. Photo: Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

Kaylee Griffin, 16, of the Thatcher 6th ward, Thatcher Arizona Stake, said the evening was "the most remarkable spiritual experience I have ever had. I saw the prophet, and I got to be with so many other youth and feel their strong spirits."

She said her reaction to the program was unexpected. "I don't think I will be able to forget this as long as I live — even into the eternities," she said.

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