Other faiths support LDS in celebrating Tongan centennial

Other religious denominations joined the celebration of the Church's centennial in Tonga and set "a marvelous example to the rest of the world of how people with religious differences can work together for a common cause," said Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve.

Elder Nelson, Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy and Elder Douglas J. Martin of the Seventy and president of the Pacific Area attended celebrations on Tongatapu, (See Church News, Aug. 31, 1991) and the outer islands of Vavau and Haapai Aug. 20-24, where many prominent local religious leaders took part in the LDS celebration."I was very favorably impressed with the spirit of religious tolerance and the importance of religious plurality in the island kingdom of Tonga," said Elder Nelson.

He said other religious leaders attended the centennial conferences, their bands and floats entered parades, and other churches donated well-filled food tables for the feasts.

"As a matter of fact, they came to Church leaders in Tonga and said, `This is our celebration, too. We want to participate.'

"Archways were constructed over the major roads to continue the spirit of the celebration," said Elder Nelson. "The other churches even erected some of the archways and covered them with beautiful palms or woven mats and then asked the LDS people to put the text on the archways."

On the island of Vava`u, for example, said Elder Nelson, the community joined in the parade of decorated trucks and tractors and marching bands.

"It was a lot of fun. I was asked to give awards to the winning participants. The winning band was from the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The LDS band took second place and the Catholic band won third.

"I gave prizes to the winners of the marathon – a race from the airport to the city of Neiafu – and none of the winners were LDS.

"I thought, `What a marvelous example for communities elsewhere in the world where people tend to divide communities because of religious or political differences.

"I was really pleased to see the model of tolerance and mutual cooperation in Tonga. These people love the Lord and they love each other."

He referred to one of the messages shared by the magistrate of the police court in Vava`u Island.

"He stood and made a great declaration. He said that in all his years of presiding as a magistrate in Neiafu, he had never yet had to try an active member of the Church. He said he respected the Church for teaching the people to obey the laws of the land, because they really do it."

Elder Nelson said he appreciated the sacrifice made by the members and their friends to commemorate the Church's centennial in Tonga.

Elder Groberg, a former missionary and mission president in Tonga, observed that "the truth is they [the people of TongaT have come of age. They realize we are there to stay, that we are a force in the community and that we are helpful.

"The people are very helpful. Even when I was there as a young missionary, some of my best friends were Catholic priests or Wesleyan ministers."

Tongans have always been a religious people, he continued. "Tongans really look out for other Tongans. They help them build their chapels; there is a real feeling of community among them."