Most maps identify Guatemala's second-largest city as Quetzaltenango. But ask a native from this highland community to name their hometown and they will likely answer "Xela" — the Mayan name that existed centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards.
Indeed, Quetzaltenango (or Xela) is synonymous with cultural tradition. Many of the women still dress in the colorful wide skirts and woven blouses favored by their ancestors. Others can comfortably speak both Spanish and local indigenous languages such as K'iche'.
And for Latter-day Saint Guatemalans who call this region home, the traditions of spirituality are believed to have stretched across the ages. They are, according to President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the sons and daughters of Father Lehi. And like their progenitors, these people of tradition love the Lord, their families and the eternal blessings that can be realized only in the temple.
Thousands here will never forget Dec. 11 — the day a temple was dedicated in this land of the Mayans. President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, presided over the dedication of the Quetzaltenango Guatemala Temple. There are now two temples in Guatemala and 136 in operation across the globe.
President Uchtdorf was joined at the dedication by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve, along with Elder Larry W. Gibbons of the Seventy. The Central America Area Presidency — Elder Enrique R. Falabella, Elder Carlos A. Amado and Elder James Martino — also participated in the dedicatory activities. The Brethren were joined by their wives: Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, Sister Kathy Sue Andersen, Sister LaDawn Gibbons, Sister Blanca Falabella, Sister Mayavel Amado and Sister Jennie Martino.
During the cornerstone ceremony prior to the dedication, President Uchtdorf said the new temple would help many in the "Land of Eternal Spring" realize the blessings of eternal life.
"This temple will bring eternal families to this place and country," he said.
The Quetzaltenango Guatemala Temple, he added, would also instill a tradition of sanctification that can be found only in the house of the Lord.
"After this day, this temple will be as sacred as the temple of Solomon, the temple in Nauvoo, the temple in Salt Lake City or as sacred as any of the temples in the world."
Elder Andersen utilized the cornerstone ceremony to express his love and gratitude for the Latter-day Saints of western Guatemala. "It is a great blessing for us to be with all of you," he said.
And the members of the Quetzaltenango are quick to say they are a blessed people.
"I feel so fortunate to be come to the temple, to show my obedience, to live the commandments and to have this opportunity to serve," said Maria Antonieta de Ixcot, a pioneer in the Church here. "Now I don't have to travel so far to Guatemala City to be in the temple. This is a grand blessing."
Sister Ixcot's daughter, Silvia Weger, remembers being a Mormon child in Quetzaltenango when the Church was young.
"I could not have imagined a temple here. When I was small we rented a little house to meet in. The missionaries and the families were strong and worked well together," Sister Weger.
The interior design of the Quetzaltenango Guatemala Temple offers an aesthetic nod to the region's rich indigenous heritage. The interior's ornate stone, wood and glasswork are detailed with a recognizable Mayan motif. Meanwhile, many of the paintings inside capture the lush, volcanic landscape of western Guatemala.
Elder Amado enjoyed the dedicatory weekend while wearing a broad and seemingly perpetual smile stretched across his face. And why not? Guatemala's first General Authority has witnessed remarkable Church growth during his lifetime. It was only a few decades ago that faithful members here had no choice but the make the long, costly journey to Mesa, Arizona, to claim their temple blessings. Now Guatemala has become one of a handful of countries with multiple temples.
"This is a marvelous day," said Elder Amado during one of the few moments following the dedication that he was not swapping a hug or standing for a photo with one of his fellow Guatemalan members. "The people here in western Guatemala have sacrificed so much for so many years to serve in the temple. This day is an answer to many prayers."
He is eager to see how the temple will impact this section of the country. Elder Amado noted that there were only four stakes in Guatemala City when the country's first temple was dedicated in the capital in 1984. Now there are more than 20.
"I think we will see the same effect here," he said.
Sister Amado fought emotion as her eyes ascended the walls of the Church's newest temple. "I could feel the Spirit of the Lord so strong today. The heavens have been opened."
Following the dedication, Elder Gibbons echoed President Uchtdorf's sentiment that while Quetzaltenango is not a large city, the abundant faithfulness of the people has blessed them with temple. A tradition of devotion can now transition to a future rich in promise, growth, gospel service and eternal blessings.
"It is so easy," he said, " for the people here to feel and radiate the Spirit."