Sydney Walker: How Elder Soares’ return to where he was baptized in Brazil represents the value of compassion

When Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was 6 years old, his parents began meeting with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their home in São Paulo, Brazil. 

They started attending branch services with a few others on the upper floor of a bakery. Even today, Elder Soares remembers the warmth of the members amid the smell of fresh bread baking at mid-meeting. 

His parents were baptized a few months later, and Elder Soares followed at age 8 on March 4, 1967. As they progressed in their new faith journey, they didn’t have much support from their extended family due to different beliefs and traditions.

Elder Soares recalls growing up in the Church without much of a relationship with his extended family. “The Church became my family, and many of my friends were from the Church. They all helped me and supported me as I was growing up in the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said during an interview in 2020.

As Elder Soares reflects on his early years in the Church, he remembers his faithful parents finding strength and courage in the teachings of the gospel. He remembers his compassionate leaders in the branch and their efforts to teach him. He remembers his loving friends who supported him as he was the only Latter-day Saint at his school and work. 

These memories came flooding back to Elder Soares as he recently returned to the São Paulo North Brazil Stake center in Santana — the meetinghouse in which he was baptized and confirmed 55 years before. 

Elder Soares presided at a special stake conference on Sunday, Oct. 24, that was broadcast from the Santana chapel to members of 11 nearby stakes. At the conference, Elder Soares greeted many familiar faces in the familiar chapel. 

The Apostle also spent a reflective moment in front of the baptismal font where he was baptized as a child and posed for a photo. 

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stands next to a baptismal font at the São Paulo North Brazil Stake center in Santana, São Paulo, Brazil, on Oct. 24, 2021. He was baptized here as an 8-year-old. São Paulo North Brazil Stake President Edson Bispo Santos is on the left.
Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stands next to a baptismal font at the São Paulo North Brazil Stake center in Santana, São Paulo, Brazil, on Oct. 24, 2021. He was baptized here as an 8-year-old. São Paulo North Brazil Stake President Edson Bispo Santos is on the left. Credit: Ale Borges, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As I came across this photo while remotely covering Elder Soares’ assignment, I thought of two things: how much Elder Soares’ Church family meant to him and how much members in Santana meant to me as a new missionary in Brazil. 

Elder Soares told members in the stake conference that day that the world is moving further and further away from Christ. “We need to live the gospel intensely and be a light to others. That was the instruction the Savior gave His disciples, and as members of the Church, we have a responsibility to be His disciples,” he said. 

In general conference, Elder Soares has emphasized similar messages about being a light to others. 

“As we strive to acquire His divine attributes … we feel a sincere concern for everyone’s welfare and happiness,” Elder Soares taught during October 2018 general conference. “We see each other as brothers and sisters, as children of God with divine origin, attributes and potential. We desire to care for each other and bear one another’s burdens.”

In October 2021 general conference, Elder Soares highlighted the Savior’s teaching of compassion. 

“My dear friends, as we intentionally strive to incorporate a compassionate attitude into our way of life, as exemplified by the Savior, we will become more sensitive to people’s needs. With that increased sensitivity, feelings of genuine interest and love will permeate our every action,” he said. 

I arrived in the Santana Ward of the São Paulo North Brazil Stake as a missionary in May 2014. It was my first area in the Brazil São Paulo North Mission; I already served seven months in California awaiting my visa. 

Battling culture shock and a lack of Portuguese skills, I felt overwhelmed and inadequate. Yet, as my companions and I relied on the Spirit and worked with the members, the Lord led us to people to teach. 

As I look at the picture of Elder Soares standing next to the baptismal font, I think of the individuals who were baptized in that same font during my time in Santana. 

I think of the members who loved and embraced them, just as members in that area loved and embraced young Elder Soares and his family five decades before. 

I think of the way they loved and embraced me as a new missionary in Brazil. 

And I’m reminded of Elder Soares’ loving invitation to be more compassionate and the eternal difference compassion can make.