FORTALEZA, Brazil — For the Latter-day Saints in this northeastern coastal city who struggled to start a branch with just a couple of convert families five decades ago and then patiently waited for the dedication of a temple announced nearly 10 years ago, Elder Ulisses Soares served as an empathetic friend.
In several weekend meetings associated with the Sunday, June 2, dedication of the Fortaleza Brazil Temple, Elder Soares — the Brazilian-born member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presiding over the events — recalled his parents’ conversion when he was five years old.
With no temple in all of South America, the Soareses were part of the Los Angeles California Temple district. They waited 14 years before being able to go to the temple to receive their endowments and to be sealed as a family.
“It was something they were dreaming of for a long time — the high cost of those days and the distance made such a trip then almost impossible,” recalled Elder Soares, explaining how his parents transitioned from worldly habits to gospel habits in preparing for the temple.
As a young man in 1978 and well before the completion and dedication of a new temple in Sao Paulo later that year, he left on his mission to Rio de Janeiro without ever having attended the temple. While he was gone, the rest of his family went for the first time.
One month before his scheduled return, Elder Soares and a half-dozen other similarly unendowed missionaries received special permission from their mission president to join one of the overnight weekend temple caravans carrying members from Rio to the Sao Paulo temple.
There he had five hours in the temple — to first receive his own endowment and then to be sealed to his parents, who joined him that Saturday at the temple — before returning to Rio for his last month of service.
“Because of those five glorious hours in the temple,” he recalled, “I learned of the plan of salvation and the promises the Lord had for me, so I was anxious to share those with my investigators.”
And he and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, were anxious to share the same as they spoke to the Saints in Fortaleza — hoping the local members would see their new temple as symbolic in their lives as the city’s name, which in Portuguese means “fortress” or “strength.”
The Soareses underscored the importance and impact of temple covenants and temple attendance in their lives, particularly in speaking in two of the three June 1 meetings held in conjunction with the dedication — a morning meeting with missionaries from the Brazil Fortaleza and Brazil Fortaleza East missions and an evening youth devotional with young men and young women from the temple district.
Elder Soares emphasized the purity of the House of the Lord and the importance of one being worthy to participate in temple ordinances, even as a youth and young adult. He repeatedly gestured and pointed toward the temple from the pulpit of the adjacent stake center where the Saturday meetings were held to underscore a fortress of strength to help withstand temptations, both before and after missions and marriage.
Elder and Sister Soares also joined other visiting leaders in an afternoon meeting with a chapel-full of Fortaleza’s “pioneer” Church members, including some who had been baptized more than a half-century previous. The pioneer families came three and four generations strong to the meeting, drawing the admiration and appreciation of the general authorities who greeted each one.
From history to making history
The temple dedication provided an opportunity to celebrate the history of the Church in Fortaleza, which started as a struggling branch with a handful of converted families 50 years ago before flourishing into a city with a temple district of more than 30 stakes and 90,000 members. The dedication in Fortaleza also made Church history — on several accounts.
Elder Soares now becomes the first apostle from outside the United States to dedicate a temple in his home country. And he dedicated the Church’s seventh temple in Brazil — and 164th worldwide — in Portuguese, his native tongue.
“I am so grateful to the First Presidency — they could have sent any other apostle,” said Elder Soares, the junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve whom President Russell M. Nelson directed to Fortaleza.
“But they gave me the opportunity, they gave me the assignment,” he added, choking at a lump in his throat, “and it means a lot — it is my own country, my own language and my own people.”
It’s only the third time a temple dedicatory prayer has been offered in a non-English language, not needing to be translated for the predominant population of local Latter-day Saints.
The first came in September 2016 when then-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency offered the rededicatory prayer for the Freiberg Germany Temple in German. The second was earlier this year when Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple with prayers in French, the official language of that country.
And the historic language element goes one step further: all three dedicatory sessions in Fortaleza were done completely in Portuguese — all talks, all hymns, all prayers as well as the dedicatory prayers and Hosanna Shout. For previous temple dedications in a non-English-speaking area, at least something — a talk or a dedicatory prayer — required side-by-side translation for the non-native speaker.
Said Elder Soares after the day’s third and final dedicatory session: “I felt like we were in heaven – I think the Lord gave us an opportunity to feel the spirit of the country and the spirit of the language.”
The all-Portuguese meetings benefited from an official traveling party with a predominant Brazilian flavor. Joining Elder and Sister Soares were fellow countryman Elder Carlos A. Godoy of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Mônica Godoy; and the Brazil Area presidency based in Sao Paulo — Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis, president, and Sister Luisa Aidukaitis; Elder W. Mark Bassett, first counselor, and Sister Angela Bassett; and Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella, second counselor, and Sister Elaine Parrella.
And Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, joined in Fortaleza by his wife, Sister Lynda Wilson, served as a full-time missionary in Brazil from 1969 to 1971.
“I can hardly believe the strength of the Church here,” said Elder Wilson, mindful of the 30-plus stakes comprising the Fortaleza temple district.
Having served in central Brazil about the same time the Fortaleza Branch in the country’s northeast region started to take hold, Elder Wilson checked off the Church’s differences from when he arrived in 1969 to present-day 2019.
Fifty years ago, Brazil had one stake, three missions, no temples and no Brazilian general authorities. Today, South America’s largest nation claims 273 stakes and nearly 1.5 million members, 35 missions, seven temples and a half-dozen native general authorities, with five General Authority Seventies joining the apostle, Elder Soares.
‘The temple is a good influence’
The 36,000-square-foot, single-domed temple is the featured building on the 10-acre grounds in the Lourdes and Dunas areas of eastern Fortaleza, not far from the Atlantic Ocean coast and some of the city’s well-known beaches.
Elder Soares is very familiar with the location, having been involved in selecting and showing the site to the First Presidency when he was the Brazil Area’s director of temporal affairs before his call as a general authority 14 years ago. Later he took President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency there when they had an assignment in Fortaleza — and not long after, in the October 2009 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson announced a future temple for the city of nearly 4 million people.
Moroni Torgan, Fortaleza’s vice-mayor, has held numerous government positions in the city, the state of Ceara and in Brazil’s congress as well as having served as a bishop, state president, Area Seventy and mission president in Portugal.
He brought a number of civic leaders — including the mayor and governor — to the temple’s open house, which drew 60,000 visitors through mid-May.
“They felt a good spirit,” he said of his guest leaders. “For them, the temple is a good influence — besides just being beautiful, it is a place of peace.”
For he and his family, the new temple is like a door opening to the celestial kingdom, where they can worship regularly, he said. “It brings me closer to Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ.”
He added: “So we see the importance of the temple — not just for the members but for the nonmembers, because it’s an inspiring place, a place that will propagate goodness and restrict the bad.”
Blessings showering Brazil
With a strong midday breeze taking the edge off the high-80s temperature and low-80-percent humidity on a bright day less than 260 miles south of the equator, Fortaleza’s temple dedication carried through as most do — three sessions broadcast to meetinghouses throughout the temple district, lines going into the temple, and members congregating outside afterward to visit and relish the experience.
The first dedicatory session featured the traditional, public-facing cornerstone ceremony. After he and his wife led out placing mortar around the capstone symbolizing the finishing of the temple, Elder Soares invited other visiting leaders and temple presidency members and their wives to do the same.
He also turned to Fortaleza’s old and new to share in the moment, bringing up several of the long-time members and a handful of young children to try their hand with the mortar and a trowel.
As the Soareses and other visiting couples departed the temple in the late afternoon, hundreds of local Saints gathered to wave, to photograph and to reach out and touch and thank the guests.
And then they lingered, well after dusk, some standing around the temple, hesitant to depart. Others found benches or plastic chairs positioned along the walkways threading the temple and meetinghouse grounds. Others were merely content to sit on the grass and talk as the temperature, the humidity and the sunlight all dropped.
Said Elder Soares of the weekend in Fortaleza: “It means a lot to me to be a part of this historic moment — to see the wonderful growth that has happened and the blessings showering Brazil.
“It is something that touches my heart profoundly, because I see the hand of the Lord blessing our country, blessing our people so they can perform their own ordinances and make covenants with the Lord in preparing for his Second Coming.”