Ambassador Siddhartha Shankar Ray of India displayed a remarkable knowledge of Church history and doctrine before turning the key to illuminate the 300,000 lights and open the Festival of Lights at the Washington, D.C., Visitors Center.
He reviewed the history of the Church in his country, beginning with the statement: "Within about 20 years after Joseph Smith received the golden plates in 1827 and the Book of Mormon was brought forth in 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established connections with India. . . . This led, as many of you know, to the formation by a small group of members of the first Mormon meetinghouse in all of Asia. . . . There are today hundreds of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in India, worshiping in 20 different cities."Ambassadors and key embassy staff from about 50 nations, 12 members of Congress, leaders from various faiths and a number of influential businessmen and government officials attended the lighting ceremony. Welcoming the guests, Beverly Campbell, director of the Church's International Affairs Office, said, "This Festival of Lights is our Church's gift to Washington and to the international community, and is reflective of that light that was brought to earth with the birth of the Christ child."
Joining Ambassador Ray in the lighting ceremony were Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy and a counselor in the North America Northeast Area presidency, and J. Willard Marriott Jr., chairman of the board and president of Marriott International and past president of the Washington D.C. Stake. Brother Marriott welcomed the international community by quoting President Howard W. Hunter: "The entire human race is one family descended from a single God. Thus, all persons on the earth are literally brothers and sisters in the family of God."
Ambassador Ray said, "I know that it is not me who is being honored tonight. You are merely recognizing the long and deep connection that India has had with the Mormon Church from about the middle of the last century."
Ambassador Ray elaborated on Mormon doctrine, saying: "The Book of Mormon in fact is published, apart from English, in four different Indian languages – in Bengali, in Tamil, in Telegu and in Hindi. India, therefore, is aware of the celestial doctrine that Mormonism stands for and has high respect for it. Mormonism does not claim to be a new religion, but regards itself as a new dispensation of the one and only Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; God's plan of eternal life which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began."
He continued: "Mormonism also believes that although there is but one gospel, there have been many dispensations of it. The final, or last dispensation is known as the
Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.' The appearing of God the Father and His son Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith in 1830, the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon and the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the beginning of the promisedDispensation of the Fullness of Times.' "
Elder Jensen said: "I am sure that this is a historic speech. I have never heard such an insightful talk on the Church delivered in this kind of public forum by a non-member."
Ambassador Ray, Elder Jensen and Brother Marriott stood side-by-side to turn the switch to illuminate the Christmas lights. Elder Jensen said, "The light we are to hold up at Christmas, and at all times really, is the light of Christ, according to that which we have seen Him do. (Mosiah 18:24.)"
Brother Marriott elaborated further on Christ's divinity as he said: "He was the Prince of Peace. All through His life, peace was on His lips and in His heart."
Ambassador Ray summed up the theme of the festival with the statement, "Let this Festival of Lights bind us together as never before and let each one of us feel the genuine bonds of universal brotherhood and fraternity that each of us undoubtedly has with the other."
U.S. ambassadors from 37 countries attended the event, including those from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belarus, Belize, Belgium, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti, India, Jordan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Laos, Liberia, Lithuania, Malawi, Madagascar, Moldova, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Russia, Sierra Leon, St. Vincent, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Zambia.
Eleven other countries had other embassy staff or chiefs of mission attending, including Botswana, Ecuador, Great Britain, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Panama, Romania, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Turkmenistan.