LISBON, Portugal — Smiling through tear-glazed eyes and sitting on the meetinghouse rostrum, Joaquim Moreira listened to a conversion story from several decades earlier of two brothers in Porto, Portugal.
It was his story — being told by a latter-day apostle to 300-plus other Portuguese “pioneer” members as representative of their own conversions, perseverance and elation with a new temple in Lisbon.
After meeting and learning from the missionaries, Laurentino Moreira prayed over one question: “Was Joseph Smith a prophet of God?” He immediately felt a peace and a joy; with a smile, he said to himself, “Well, this is the answer.”
Laurentino invited his brother Joaquim to attend his baptism and to listen to the missionaries, which he did. When asked to pray after the initial lesson, Joaquim hesitated — it would be his first prayer ever. “I stood up — and I felt like I was flying,” he recalled, asking the missionaries to help him understand the feeling, which was accompanied by his own sense of peace, light and joy.
Soon after Joaquim joined the Church. Their father was also baptized and both brothers served missions. Their mother declined to even read her sons’ missionary letters, so Joaquim sent one with a prayer that her heart would soften.
She read the letter; she later was baptized by her husband.
“How happy we are that this Joaquim is now Elder Joaquim J. Moreira,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, pointing out the Lisbon-based Area Seventy seated behind him as well as his brother, Laurentino, seated in a pew near the pulpit.
“I was surprised,” Elder Moreira said humbly afterwards. “I didn’t know he was going to do that.”
Elder Andersen related the story in an afternoon meeting of longtime Portuguese Latter-day Saints held Saturday, Sept. 14, in a stake center adjacent to the new Lisbon Portugal Temple. Two other meetings — a morning session with missionaries serving in the Portugal Lisbon Mission and an evening devotional with local youth — were part of a trio conducted in the day prior to Sunday’s temple dedication.
Portugal’s past, present and future
Elder Andersen presided and provided keynote instruction at the three meetings that represented the past, present and future of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Portugal — the missionaries signifying the ongoing efforts of spreading the gospel in a nation where the Church has a history of less than a half-century, the pioneers representing the roots of that 45-year-old “tree,” and the youth symbolic of the shoots and up-reaching branches.
“We can never look at the Church in quite the same way once the House of the Lord is here,” said Elder Andersen, adding, “We’re moving into a new chapter of the Church in Portugal.”
He was accompanied in Lisbon by his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, as well as by Elder José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Filomena Teixeira; Elder Gary B. Sabin, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Europe Area, and his wife, Sister Valerie Sabin; and Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and his wife, Sister Nancy Duncan. They all participated at least once in sharing a message or testimony in Saturday’s meetings.
Saturday started fittingly with the morning missionary meeting, since missionaries were the catalyst for the growth of the Church in Portugal.
In brief but effective negotiations in 1974 with the military government that replaced Portugal’s longtime rightist dictatorship, the Church received both official recognition and the allowance for missionaries to enter the coastal country in Europe’s southwestern corner.
That came on the heels of President Spencer W. Kimball’s April 1974 “When the World Will be Converted” presentation to Church leaders. He projected a global increase in missionary access and efforts, with countries besides the United States expected to send missionaries into nations besides their own. One example: missionaries from Latin America being sent to serve in Europe.
Elder William Grant Bangerter, a former mission president in Brazil who then was serving in that South American country as a regional representative for the Church, was soon called to create a mission in Portugal. In his autobiography, he recalled leaders in Brazil as “transformed with enthusiasm. They felt the spirit of the Prophet in the possibility that Brazil was now going to be responsible to convert their mother country.”
“We’re moving into a new chapter of the Church in Portugal.”
And he proposed to President Kimball that half the missionaries sent to Portugal be from Brazil. President Kimball agreed, with two North American elders and two Brazilian companions arriving in Lisbon in November 1975 with the Bangerters. Another similarly constituted foursome arrived the next month, with the U.S./Brazil pattern set for several years to come.
By July 1975, Portugal claimed 100 converts; by July 1978, the count was 1,000, with 5,000 reached in mid-1985. The first stake was created in 1981 in Lisbon; by the end of that decade, Lisbon had a second stake, with additional stakes in Porto, Matoshinhos and Setubal.
Today, Portugal is home to more than 45,000 members, six stakes, 68 congregations and the Lisbon-based mission (after at one time having as many as three missions). It also hosts the Church’s newest temple, the 166th in operation.
And the missionary force in Portugal continues to be an international blend, including Portuguese speakers from Africa.
“In my country, we don’t have a temple,” said Elder Fernando Zuca of Beira, Mozambique, “so for me, it is a great privilege to listen to an apostle and to see the temple.”
Elder Andersen gave the missionaries an invitation to write down the things they believe. The exercise would lift their own faith and prepare them to strengthen the faith of the members and future members in Portugal, he said.
“Write down what you really believe,” he said, requesting the missionaries include five personally impactful scriptures from both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon and then discuss their beliefs and their scriptures in future meetings together.
He also encouraged them to find ways to show people they contact the video coverage of Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo do Sousa visiting the Lisbon temple on Aug. 29 during its open house.
Elder Andersen spoke of drafting the dedicatory prayer — part of his assignment to preside over the dedication — as “a very spiritual experience.” He told of having an impression after submitting the prayer to the First Presidency to make an addendum, adding a paragraph to bless the members to have “spiritual confidence” to share the gospel.
Impact of pioneer members
The day wasn’t given only to currently serving missionaries, as a number of returned missionaries who served previously in Portugal attended the afternoon meeting with the pioneer members — renewing friendships and rejoicing in the Church’s continued growth.
“It was such a grand experience at that time to be one of the first missionaries to come in and share the gospel with the Portuguese people, never dreaming that someday there would be a temple and more than 45,000 members of the Church here,” said Don Chandler of Twin Falls, Idaho, who served in Portugal from 1976 to 1978, when some of the smaller branches in Porto numbered a dozen or so members each.
On Saturday, on his first return to Portugal, he reconnected with Alcino and Maria Nazaré Silva, who as a young couple in 1976 heard news reports of missionaries arriving in Porto and soon found a pair at their door. Accepting of the new-found truths, the young architect and his wife were baptized Feb. 12, 1977 — she somewhat hesitantly because of her pregnancy, the cold temperatures and the fact that the evening baptism would be done outdoors in a large plastic pool-like container in the chicken-infested garden area behind the missionaries’ residence.
Both recalled feeling anything but cold afterward. “I came out of the water and said, ‘It is very warm, I feel very warm,’ ” said Alcino Silva. “I can’t express the feeling — it was a wonderful feeling.”
Those wonderful feelings have continued over the years for the Silvas. Alcino Silva was called as the first stake president in Porto.
Also Saturday, Chandler got to meet the Silvas’ two sons — Simão Pedro and younger brother Tiago, the oldest being the one his mother was carrying at her baptism. Like his father, Simão Pedro Silva is a Porto-based architect — and was contracted to help design the Lisbon temple.
Like the Moreiras and Silvas, the Teixeiras are prominent pioneer members themselves. Elder Teixera served as a missionary from 1980 to 1982 in his native Portugal and on the Azores, the Portuguese islands some 800 miles (nearly 1,300 kilometers) away in the North Atlantic.
The Teixeiras spoke in several meetings Saturday of their conversions and their families’ conversions. Sister Teixeira’s family — the Teles Grilos— had lived previously in Angola, with her father working in banking there. However, they lost considerable money and possessions when Angola and other former Portugal colonies were given their independence in the mid-1970s, with the years of civil wars and unrest resulting in people from Portugal or of Portuguese descent returning to Europe.
The Teles Grilo family was baptized in 1977, a year after the Teixeira family was baptized. The two families later were sealed in the Swiss Temple, a trip of some 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers) requiring two days and a night on a bus each way.
At the temple, the children were sealed to their parents — then the parents sealed to their own parents. And, as Elder and Sister Teixeira would later learn, both their families were doing their sealings on the same date in the same temple.
“It was a glorious day,” said Sister Teixeira during one of her Saturday messages from the pulpit, choking up at what for her and her husband was more than a mere coincidence of a shared date.
Besides focusing on the past and present, Elder Andersen helped to turn listeners to the future. He invited current missionaries to return to Lisbon in 2069 to help celebrate the temple’s 50th anniversary — “if the Lord hasn’t come,” he added.
He invited the standing-room-only crowd of youth in the evening devotional to the same reunion.
“In 50 years, I will not be here, Elder Teixeira won’t be here, but many of you will be here,” he said. “You will think back of being here today and especially being here tomorrow, and the Spirit you felt during the dedicatory sessions. If you are sitting in this chapel 50 years from now, it will most likely mean that you have been true and faithful for all of your life. This is a wonderful goal to anticipate.”
He reiterated President Nelson’s counsel given to the youth of the Church in June 2018, saying “his counsel is timeless and is worth reviewing over and over” before speaking of the five key points:
- Disengage to some extent from social media.
- Make a weekly sacrifice of time to the Lord.
- Keep on the covenant path. Assess where you are.
- Pray daily that all of God’s children might receive the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Stand out. Be different. Be a light. Remember the booklet “For the Strength of Youth.”
He left the youth with several blessings at different points in his message to them — that the Lord will be with them in knowing with whom to speak when sharing the gospel and what to say; to feel during Sunday’s dedication of the power that rests upon the temple and have that feeling “go down into your heart like fire”; to be determined in keeping the commandments and helping strengthen the Church in Portugal; and to have answers to their prayers “and that you might know how important you are to your Heavenly Father and to His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Sister Andersen spoke in both the missionary and youth meetings, in each emphasizing the importance of the temple. In the first session, she related how she and Elder Andersen as a young married couple living in Florida traveled to the dedication of the Atlanta Georgia Temple and the experiences of helping as last-minute ushers and being in a room close to the celestial room and hearing more voices singing during the dedicatory session than the number in the choir.
To the youth, she recalled how her father helped her meet a Young Woman goal of doing baptisms for the dead, fulfilling a promise by driving her 2,500 miles to the Salt Lake Temple — the closest temple at the time for them.
Both the youth and pioneer-member meetings were conducted completely in Portuguese, and in addition to joining other leaders in shaking the hands of the missionaries prior to that meeting, Elder Andersen surprised the pioneer members by announcing at the end of their session that he would be happy to greet any interested individuals.