MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Mexico is great center of strength for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Elder Quentin L. Cook after returning from 10 days in the North American nation on Feb. 17.
A country of 110 million people, Mexico is home to 1.4 million Church members, 220 stakes, 32 missions, 13 temples, strong leaders and multi-generational families, said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“People smiled. They were happy. There seemed to be a genuine delight in being members of the Church,” he said.
Elder Cook visited Mexico City, Merida and Cancun on Feb. 8-17 — addressing members and missionaries, meeting with government, religious and civic leaders (including Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes at the Basilica de Guadalupe and Governor Omar Fayad Meneses of the State of Hidalgo), conducting an area review, holding priesthood leadership meetings and participating in a religious freedom forum.
Elder Cook was accompanied by his wife, Sister Mary Cook; Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Kathy Clayton; Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric and his wife, Sister Carol Waddell; and members of the Mexico Area Presidency and their wives — Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela and Sister Silvia Valenzuela, Elder Rafael E. Pino and Sister Patricia Pino, and Elder John C. Pingree Jr. and Sister Anne Pingree.
Elder Cook praised the work of the Area Presidency and their wives. “They do an excellent job,” he said. “They are really making a difference.”
Elder Valenzuela said Elder Cook devoted his time during the assignment to ministering to "Church Leaders, members, missionaries and some other very important persons in the religious, government and business environment." He taught them doctrine and principles to remember as they deal with life challenges and seek opportunities to serve others in the kingdom, he said.
"One of the highlights for me was watching members greet Elder Cook and receive a spiritual witness of his divine calling as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ," said Elder Pingree. "For many, it was their first time meeting an apostle, and the members’ love of the Lord and appreciation for modern day prophets was evident.
"Elder Cook teaches by encouraging and uplifting others. He is very practical in his approach to teaching the gospel and helped priesthood and auxiliary leaders with functional ways to implement the various changes that have been announced by the Church over the last few years. Leaders and members left the training meetings with added vision, hope, and energy."
During the trip the leaders participated in a historic religious freedom forum held on Feb. 15 in the auditorium of the Mexican Senate — a unique venue given the strict interpretation of separation of church and state in Mexican law.
During his remarks at the Inter-American Forum of Collaboration and Interfaith Dialogue on Religious Freedom, Elder Cook said “there are a growing number of people who do not feel accountable to God for their conduct and attempt to diminish the rights of those who do feel accountable.”
During the talk, which was translated into Spanish and was broadcast on networks that cover the Mexican Senate, Elder Cook called for people of faith to stand firm and united in defending religious freedom.
“My principal message is that we must not neglect our responsibility to defend religious freedom,” he said.
Joining Elder Cook on the program were Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, the archbishop of Monterrey and president of the Mexican Conference of Catholic Bishops; Diana Álvarez Maury, the Undersecretary for Religious Affairs for the government of Mexico; Senator Kenia López Rabadán, chair of the Mexico Senate’s Human Rights Committee; and Senator Óscar Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar, chair of the Constitutional Matters Commission in Mexico.
Elder Cook said he was pleased to be gathered among people of faith and good will, “in a country and in a region of the world where the great majority of the population values faith, family, and the ethical values that religion inspires and teaches.”
“The participants and the audience were very appreciative,” said Gary Doxey, associate director for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies and former president of the Mexico City South Mission. “Several commented that freedom of religion and conscience is important in a religiously diverse society.”
He said Elder Cook’s remarks were received well. Many commented about his directive to stand up when religious intolerance occurs.
Moving forward with faith
During a devotional, attended by 800 youth from eight stakes in Mexico City and broadcast to 38,000 youth throughout Mexico on Feb. 10, Elder Cook spoke of the importance of obtaining a testimony and encouraged the youth to be worthy of a temple recommend.
The leaders and their wives answered questions from the youth, with the event hosted by two youth from two Mexico City stakes — Karim Noffal Cabanillas, a priest in the Tacubaya stake, and Pahoran Parra Cruz, a Laurel from the Chapultepec stake.
During the devotional, the leaders reminded the youth of their potential to become a light and invited them to have faith, to serve and love others, and to be tolerant and courageous. Elder Cook encouraged them to always seek the guidance of the Spirit to make the important decisions.
The event helped the youth "strengthen their testimonies of the Lord Jesus Christ," Elder Valenzuela said.
Shortly before the end of the devotional, Elder Cook pronounced a special blessing for the young people of Mexico. He said: “I invoke a blessing on you, to be the most faithful generation of members of the Church that this country has had.”
In addition to the youth devotional, the leaders participated in two devotionals for young married couples — one in Mexico City and one in Merida. The couples, who had been married up to five years, “looked really good and were excited to meet with leaders and receive counsel,” said Elder Cook.
Looking over the congregations left Elder Cook with an “overwhelming feeling of gratitude.”
Amid a world of shifting values, “they are moving forward in faith.”
“I saw great hope for the promise of the Church in Mexico with these young, vibrant couples,” said Elder Clayton.
Even attending a meeting of that kind in Mexico — where traffic is heavy — is a “remarkable testimony of how they feel about the gospel.”
Elder Pingree said Church members in Mexico are "humble, charitable, and sensitive to the Spirit. They naturally believe in Jesus Christ and are committed to following Him."
Mexico, he added, has a solid foundation of multigenerational families that provide a backbone of strength to the Church. "In addition, many new people are converting to the gospel and adding spiritual strength to local units."
One of the most memorable parts of Elder Cook’s visit "was his testimony of Jesus Christ," said Elder Pingree. "As a special witness of the Savior, Elder Cook testified of Christ’s divine Sonship, His role as our Savior and Redeemer, and His direction of the Church in the latter days."
A missionary surprise
Elder Cook, Elder Clayton and Bishop Waddell addressed missionaries at the Mexico MTC as well as in Mexico City and in Merida.
"Missionaries and mission presidents learned the importance of becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ," said Elder Valenzuela.
During a missionary meeting with 155 missionaries from the Mexico Merida Mission on Feb. 15, Elder Cook made reference to the the First Presidency announcement a day earlier updating the guidelines regarding communication between full-time missionaries and their families. But the missionaries had not yet learned that — effective immediately — they could communicate with their families each week on preparation day by text messages, online messaging, phone calls and video chats in addition to letters and emails.
“It was like Christmas morning,” said Elder Cook. “There was real joy.”
The missionaries in Mexico were very impressive, said Elder Cook.
Added Elder Clayton: “They were sharp. They were happy.”