BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
President Thomas S. Monson offered timeless words on Jan. 17, 1986, while presiding over the dedication of the : "I feel as we dedicate this temple that we are also rededicating our own lives — a day to make pledges in our hearts."
Almost three decades have passed since that historic opening of Argentina's first and only temple. Today, there are temples scattered across South America — and a second Argentine temple is being built in the city of Cordoba.
On Sept. 9, President Monson's words were proven again to be relevant and prophetic.
Thousands of Latter-day Saint Argentines gathered under blue skies for the rededication of the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple. Tens of thousands more participated in meetinghouses stretched across this South American nation. And, once again, the members were challenged to rededicate lives and pledge hearts to God — even as their beloved edifice was rededicated to the Lord.
"This temple will again be a blessing for this country," said member Claudio Salerno.
President Henry B. Eyring, President Monson's first counselor in the First Presidency, presided at each of the three rededication sessions. Two members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, also participated, along with Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Temple Department.
Also in attendance was the South America South Area Presidency: Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, Elder Jorge F. Zeballos and Elder Francisco J. Vinas.
Moments following the final session, President Eyring called the day's events remarkable.
"I've always loved Argentina — but it's even better now than what I've seen before," he said. "The members here have just grown."
Located just a few miles from the international airport on a major highway, the temple's native granite walls and six sentinel spires are a welcoming landmark for all who travel to Buenos Aires, which is often dubbed "The Paris of South America."
The beloved temple was closed in the final weeks of 2009. For almost a quarter-century the temple had served as a spiritual haven for members across Argentina. But the building was in need of refurbishment to meet the demands of a growing Church in this region.
During the new construction period, two wings were added to the original building, dramatically increasing its size. The renovated temple is encircled by gardens, benches and walking paths. Fountains are at both ends.
The recent construction was executed with respect for the temple's original and distinctive design. Prominent throughout its exterior walls are vertical stained glass windows that feature the familiar blue and white colors of the Argentine flag. Patriotic gardeners have even captured that same color pattern in many of the flower designs bordering the edifice.
Members here appreciate the necessary improvements that were made to the temple.
"But we are hungry to return," said Marta Romero, a Cordoba member. "We are hungry to serve in the temple. There is so much enthusiasm."
Sister Romero will call the rededicated temple her second home for the next few years as she serves beside her husband, President Mario Romero, second counselor in the temple presidency.
When President Romero surveys the vast temple, his mind wanders back to 1978 when he and his young family embarked upon a 30-hour bus trip to participate in the opening of South America's first temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
His excitement to return to the temple is equaled by many of his fellow Argentine members who lacked the resources to attend a temple outside the country. But they never lacked for faith or worthiness.
"They maintained their temple recommends even when they could not attend the temple," he said.
As the presiding priesthood leader in southern South America, Elder Arnold makes a point to visit a different ward each Sunday. He spotted a common theme during recent fast and testimony meetings: a growing enthusiasm and eagerness to return to the temple.
"Many thousands of the Saints in Argentina have not been able to visit a temple for three years during the time that the Buenos Aires temple was being renovated — traveling to Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia or Chile [was impossible] with their limited budgets," he said. "How grateful the Saints are that once again they will have that privilege."
The rededication of the temple is a choice blessing for the entire South America South Area, he added. The heavens are open.
"As I sat listening to the [rededication] choir practice in the celestial room, it was as if angels of heaven had joined with them in singing praises to the Lord."
Temple President Carlos Fernandez, a Church convert, said the reach of the temple is already stretching beyond those members who regularly attended before its closure three years ago. Many families who have never stepped inside a dedicated temple will be attending for the first time in the coming days. Plus, a new generation of young people are eager to do their part and serve.
Almost 100,000 people toured the temple during the recent open house period despite constant cold and wet conditions, he said. Many left misty eyed by what they witnessed. Others asked to speak to the missionaries.
"The Spirit can be felt throughout the country," he said. "There is so much enthusiasm to return to the House of the Lord."
President Fernandez' wife, Sister Beatrize Fernandez, said the rededication of the temple has served as a powerful symbol in the lives of many in Argentina. They have accepted the challenge, she said, that President Monson issued decades ago.
"We have seen the people dedicate their lives to this temple. We know of so many sacrifices that have been made."
Bishop Ariel Calvo, who presides over the Vicente Lopez Ward, Buenos Aires North Argentina Stake, said the rededicated temple will help ensure that Argentina and all of South America remain powers in the Church.
"It is our job as leaders to provide spiritual experiences for the youth," he said. "You will always find the most spiritual experiences inside the temple."
As each rededication session came to a close, families were seen exiting arm in arm. Their shared experience inside Buenos Aires' temple conjured the words of the psalmist: "We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company" (Psalm 55:14).