Cemetery plaque honors historic 1851 visit to Chile

Commemorating the visit of Parley P. Pratt and his wife, Phebe, to this nation in the 1850s, a memorial plaque has been placed at the cemetery where their infant son was buried in 1852.

Elder Pratt of the Council of the Twelve, accompanied by his wife and Elder Rufus Allen, arrived in Chile Nov. 8, 1851. Three weeks later, on Nov. 30, Sister Pratt gave birth to a boy they named Omner. The baby lived until Jan. 7, and was buried in a private Valparaiso cemetery.The cemetery plaque notes that Omner Pratt was "Son of Parley P. Pratt, Apostle of Jesus Christ and first missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to South America, who dedicated this land for the preaching of the gospel."

Local members located the gravesite through their research. They also donated funds for the plaque, and made arrangements for the grave marker to be placed. The register of graves is well-preserved and the gravesite is in good condition. The Cemetery of the Dissidents (for foreigners), as it is called, is under the care of the Union Church.

Elder Waldo P. Call of the Seventy and president of the South America North Area until his recent release as a General Authority unveiled the plaque. He also dedicated the infant's grave site. Elder Call, whose middle name is Pratt, is a direct descendant of Elder Pratt. Elder Call was accompanied by local Church leaders, including Romelio Narvaez, regional representative, who presented a historical summary.

In the dedication of the grave site, Elder Call petitioned for a special blessing for Chile. "Wilt thou bless those who govern; and bless us as members of the Church that by our living the gospel worthily thou mayest bless this people, that there may be peace, that there may be food on the tables of all the Chilean families, and that they may listen to the gospel message and feel that it is true."

In 1850 the Pratts and Elder Allen sailed from San Francisco to gather information about the conditions in the countries of South America, and to find whether missionaries could begin preaching the gospel of the restored Church.

Upon its arrival, the party first stayed in a hotel, a site now occupied by the Chilean-North America Cultural Institute.

The party soon rented a home on Victoria Street. It was here that Sister Pratt gave birth to Omner. The baby lived only five weeks. In the cemetery register in Valparaiso, the inscription "died of weakness" is recorded.

After the baby died, Elder and Sister Pratt and Elder Allen traveled to Quillota, a village in Chile's interior some 25 miles east. At this time the country was engaged in a civil war. The missionaries could not speak the local language, nor could they find employment to earn money for living expenses. They had no scriptures except a Spanish version of the Bible, and they found that the law of the land did not permit freedom of religious worship.

In view of these obstacles, they decided not to make further effort to establish the gospel in Chile.

When the brigantine "Dracut" weighed anchor and sailed away from the harbor of Valparaiso, Chile, on March 5, 1852, Elder Pratt and his wife and Elder Allen were aboard. As the ship sailed away from the harbor, the Pratts could see the promontory with the cemetery where their infant son was buried.

Some 105 years were to pass before missionaries would again be sent to Chile. Since that time – in only 34 years – the Church in Chile has flourished to where today it has 266,000 members, 2 percent of the total population.

"The little grave left on a lonely hill in Valparaiso in 1852 has been as a dormant seed planted by an apostle of the Lord to bear fruit in the flowering of the gospel a century later," said Elder Narvaez.