With tears in his eyes, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told a gathering of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cuba how eager he had been to visit them.
“I couldn’t help but remember my first Church meetings in Brazil with four or five families in a small rented space on the second level of a bakery. It was there that I learned the first lessons of the gospel. A very simple place where people like you met, maybe four or five families, but it was a time of formation for me to obtain my testimony of Jesus Christ and see the Church grow,” Elder Soares said in a district conference on Nov. 13 in Vedado.
In the same way, he highlighted the pioneer character of the first members of the Church in Cuba and how the work would rest on the basis of their service during these years.
“My dear brothers and sisters, be of good cheer, despite the difficulties you may have to face, for the Lord has said: ‘Be of good cheer, therefore, and do not fear, for I, the Lord, am with you and will protect you; and you will testify of me, yes Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God; that I was, that I am, and that I am to come,’” (Doctrine and Covenants 68:6), Elder Soares said.
The conference was attended by about 220 people. Some people traveled up to 12 hours from the eastern side of the island for the district conference, reported the Church’s Caribbean Newsroom.
During the weekend, a special baptismal service on the beach was held for four new members of the Church, including one woman who learned about the Church through social media and received her lessons remotely from the missionaries.
Since its first meetings with a small group of two or three families in Havana, the Church has grown in Cuba as people share the gospel with family, friends and neighbors. Today, the Church has about 400 members organized into three branches and a group that make up the Havana Cuba District.
Elder Soares delivered a special blessing of love and protection on the members in Cuba, to recognize the Savior Jesus Christ in their lives and move on with strength to serve as true disciples “with joy in your hearts.”
“May He bless you to persevere and help you to have hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, where you can find the peace you need,” Elder Soares said.
Meetings with Cuban authorities and other faith leaders
Elder Soares is the third Apostle to visit Cuba. He was preceded by Elder David A. Bednar in February 2012 and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in June 2014, where he organized the Church’s second branch in the country.
The Caribbean Newsroom report said Elder Soares’ agenda included meetings with government leaders in Cuba — including the head of the Office of Religious Affairs — where they discussed the progress of the Church.
“This has been a very positive meeting,” Elder Soares said as he left the meeting. “The Church is advancing with firm steps and we feel very optimistic about the future.”
Elder Soares arrived in the country with his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, and Elder Eduardo Gavarret, General Authority Seventy and president of the Caribbean Area, and his wife, Sister Norma Gavarret. They visited various humanitarian organizations and faith partners who work with the Church to help those in need on the island, especially after recent hurricanes.
The leaders held an interdenominational dinner as well, which was attended by various religious leaders to strengthen ties and build closer relationships.
The Reverend Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui, assistant secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, commented: “This has been an affable meeting between brothers, in which we have been able to enjoy a fraternal spirit of cordiality and affection among those of us who profess the faith of Christ and who we hope will be the first of many in the future.”
Elder Soares’ visit to Puerto Rico
Before visiting Cuba, Elder and Sister Soares went to Puerto Rico for the first time. They were accompanied by Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Lynette Cook.
Elder Soares called it an extraordinary experience to meet with members, missionaries and leaders of the Church on the island.
“We recognize the power that the Gospel has brought to their lives, through their obedience and dedication. It is a wonderful country, an island that has many resources and many good, kind and friendly people,” Elder Soares said to Caribbean Newsroom in an article first published in Spanish.
In a meeting on Nov. 9 at the Guaynabo Chapel broadcast to all Puerto Rico stakes, Elder Soares praised the talent and grace of its members for music and singing, and prompted laughter from the audience when he said, “I am going to speak with President [Russell M.] Nelson about the Tabernacle Choir, because we have already found an excellent substitute in Puerto Rico.”
He invited the audience to emulate President Nelson’s example.
“I have never met a kinder and more tender-hearted person than President Nelson; he is an extremely patient and loving person. I also want to follow his example,” Elder Soares said.
Referencing the difficulties that Puerto Ricans have had to face in recent years from flooding, hurricanes and other natural disasters, he warned about the importance of not losing focus in the face of difficulties and temptations that could arise “because of a confused and troubled world ”, but that one must “follow the teachings of the prophet with good courage, faith and disposition, and then trust that we can count on the power of God in our lives to face the challenges.”
At the end of his message, he pronounced a special blessing on those present and on all the people of Puerto Rico, whom he invited to “remain and build the kingdom of God in their own country.”
Sister Soares spoke about keeping promises made to God to receive his blessings and cultivating righteous family traditions. She also spoke about the need for the Church and its importance in “the improvement, progress and happiness of all the children of God.”
Elder Cook recalled the promises made by President Nelson during his visit to the island in September 2018 after Hurricane Maria, where he said “better days are ahead for the people of Puerto Rico.” A month later, President Nelson announced a temple for San Juan in the October 2018 general conference.
Elder Cook added, “President Nelson has said: ‘I promise that spending increased time in the temple will bless your life in ways nothing else can.’ I testify that it is so.”
Elder Soares and Elder Cook, along with their wives and other leaders from the Caribbean Area, also participated in a special meeting with all the full-time missionaries serving on the island.
And they visited Plaza Las Américas in San Juan to see the exhibition, “Mi Familia. Mi Gente” (My Family. My People”), a Church-sponsored family history presentation that helps visitors find the origin of their last name, FamilySearch resources, and other tools to begin their own family history. It will run until November 26.