Sarah Jane Weaver: The message of hope delivered in S. Utah, Puerto Rico — ‘You are not forgotten’

How Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s message from Southern Utah and the dedication of the San Juan temple signal ‘a future filled with hope’

Millie Maldonado-Perez sat outside the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple and spoke of Hurricane Maria.

A physician who was born in Puerto Rico and raised on the mainland, Maldonado-Perez returned to the island to assist with Maria recovery efforts after the storm.  

Inspired by the locals’ resilience, she never left.

“I have met the most amazing people on this island,” she said. “They love so hard.”

It has been more than five years since the September 2017 storm — one of the worst disasters to ever strike the Caribbean — left this island territory with prolonged periods of water and power outages and extensive damage. Following hard-fought Maria recovery efforts, the island also endured a series of other challenges and catastrophic events — including Hurricane Fiona, two magnitude 6.0 earthquakes in 2019 and 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Maldonado-Perez said she knows God is aware of Puerto Rico.

Looking at the Church’s newest temple, she recalled the day she learned it would be built in San Juan.

“That was hope,” she said. “That was, ‘We are going to be OK.’

“It was like the last first responder giving someone mouth to mouth. It was the jolt we needed.”

It was the powerful message: “You are not forgotten.”

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Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the new temple on Sunday, Jan. 15. “The temple will bless this island,” he said.

Elder Jorge M. Alvarado, a General Authority Seventy who is from Puerto Rico, said the temple is just what the territory needs. “Puerto Rico needs joy, it needs happiness. There is so much beauty around us, but now with the temple, people can have hope of a better Puerto Rico.”

One week to the day before the dedication in Puerto Rico, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles promised young adults across the globe that they can look to “a future filled with hope.”

Hope, he said, is essential to receive the inheritance God has prepared for His faithful children (Ether 12:32).

We must realize that hope is not just the “message and the manner of the naturally optimistic;” it is the privilege of all who believe, he said.

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Elder Holland delivered his message from his hometown of St. George — a southern Utah community that, like Puerto Rico, is a monument to hope.  

In 1861, Brigham Young sent early Latter-day Saints to colonize St. George, where settlers — including Elder Holland’s ancestors — built their homes and lives on the rocks, lava and alkali soil of southern Utah. Amid a constant hot, dusty wind, they faced mosquito-borne illness, contended with rattlesnakes and fought back annual floods.

While some left, the faithful and determined stayed.

Their hopes for the future are now a reality.

Today, St. George has a population of more than 100,000 residents and a thriving university; soon the area will have two temples — a third is located 50 miles north in Cedar City, Utah.

There is also physical evidence of hope in Puerto Rico, where lush green landscapes have returned to the country left brown and barren by Maria.

Aibonito, Puerto Rico, is pictured on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Yet our challenge is clear. As the Saints in Puerto Rico witnessed when continued disasters and challenges struck their territory in the wake of Maria, maintaining hope “tomorrow or next month or next year may be difficult,” said Elder Holland.

Reflecting on his devotional address, Elder Holland said there was a moment during the talk when he got a “little lump” in his throat as he told the young adults that no one knows in any given year what that year may hold for them.

Certainly, he did not anticipate the health challenges he has faced in recent years — or his hopeful recovery that allowed him to walk to the pulpit without the aid of a cane during the worldwide devotional broadcast. 

“I never would have known two years ago that this was in my future, but you hit the pitch that is thrown to you,” he said. “That is what the settlers did in St. George from the beginning.”

It is also the legacy of Latter-day Saints in Puerto Rico — and across the world — who believe. The 300 temples that are operating, announced or under construction are the symbol of those hopes — the very reason we can look to “a future filled with hope” in spite of the disasters like Maria, the pandemic, war and troubling cultural and social issues.

While participating in the dedication of the Cedar City temple in southern Utah in 2017, Elder Holland acknowledged these powerful symbols. “We will never again count temples by twos and tens in this Church. We will now count them by hundreds,” he said. “That is the destiny we have in this work, and we are not through yet. We are to be a temple-going, a temple-attending people.” 

The St. George Utah Temple is the oldest operating temple of the Church and was the first dedicated after the Church lost the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. It sustained the early settlers. Just like the new temple in Puerto Rico, it sends all of us the same message:

“You are not forgotten.”

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