‘We too are explorers’: Elder Andersen compares historic Portuguese navigators to Lisbon’s dedicated temple

LISBON, Portugal — Exploration. Discovery. And returning home.

It has been a fundamental part of Portugal’s history for more than five centuries.

And for the second time in the last half-century, a latter-day apostle has evoked the imagery and accomplishments of 15th– and 16th-century sea-traveling Portuguese explorers in a key dedication for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this European country.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the Lisbon Portugal Temple on Sunday, Sept. 15 — it becomes the Church’s 166th operating temple worldwide — by calling attention to Portugal’s fascinating history of global discovery and likened it to Latter-day Saints going to the temple as explorers seeking to discover something greater than lands and riches.

In earlier interviews with the Church News to summarize the themes of his dedicatory remarks planned for Lisbon, Elder Andersen noted the historic achievements of Portuguese explorers such as Bartolomeu Dias, who helped map Africa’s coastline; Vasco da Gama, who followed Dias’ initial route and continued on to chart a sea-going course to India; Ferdinand Magellan, who is credited as the first to circle the globe, by sailing below South America and through the straits that now bear his name; and even Christopher Columbus, who spent seven years in Portugal observing and learning from other explorers.

Said Elder José A. Teixeira, a Portugal native and member of the Presidency of the Seventy who accompanied Elder Andersen on the Lisbon temple assignment: “You cannot disassociate the city of Lisbon from the ocean — it is an integral part of who we are. … The history of the Portuguese is about discovering the world.”

A view of central Lisbon, with the St. George Castle (Castelo de S. Jorge) atop the hill on the left and the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge over the Tagus River in the center background. Photo taken Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.
A view of central Lisbon, with the St. George Castle (Castelo de S. Jorge) atop the hill on the left and the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge over the Tagus River in the center background. Photo taken Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

Elder Andersen explained the analogy with the new Lisbon Portugal Temple. “In this dedicated and consecrated house of the Lord, we too are explorers, searching not for new lands but for something much more precious,” he said, then quoting John 17:3: “ ‘This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.’

“As disciples of Jesus Christ, we enter into this house to discover the things of eternity and to prepare us to one day travel through the veil back to our heavenly home.”

Such a theme for the Lisbon Portugal Temple’s dedication hearkened back to the prayer offered on April 22, 1975, by Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve when he dedicated Portugal for missionary work.

“We recognize, Father, that from this land went navigators and seafaring men in days of yore and that the Portuguese people have had an adventurous spirit, as they trusted in Thee, as they looked for lands unknown,” prayed the future Church president on the outskirts of Lisbon, overlooking the country’s Atlantic Ocean coast. “Grant that they may trust in Thee as they now search for those truths that will lead them to life eternal.”

Thirty-five years later, during October 2010 general conference, President Monson announced a new temple to be located in Lisbon.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles helps guide several children to participate in the cornerstone ceremony of the Lisbon Portugal Temple dedication on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles helps guide several children to participate in the cornerstone ceremony of the Lisbon Portugal Temple dedication on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

Members of the Lisbon Portugal Temple district can, as Elder Andersen hopes, use their temple worship and service to explore and discover the beauties, mysteries and priceless blessings of heaven.

“With patience and righteousness, our exploration will bring the discoveries we seek,” he said. “We will come to know our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.”

And he acknowledged a shared route for this eternal exploration: “We come first to the temple to obtain our own endowment and sealings. We set our own family on a course toward the celestial kingdom, realizing we must be true to the covenants we have made.”

Past temple journeys

Elder Teixeira and his wife, Sister Filomena Teixeira, know all about long journeys when it comes to attending the temple. The two are among the country’s pioneer members — he joining the Church at age 16 with his family in 1976 when there were fewer than 400 members of the Church in Portugal, and she and her Teles Grilo family were baptized the following year.

When the two families were ready for their first temple ordinances and sealings, the Church’s nearest operating temple at the time was in Bern, Switzerland — a round-trip distance of nearly 5,000 kilometers that required two days and a night on a bus each way, Elder Teixeira recalled.

Portuguese members have continued since to travel great distances to participate in the most accessible temple — first Bern; then London, England; Frankfurt, Germany; and, more recently, Madrid, Spain.

In an Ensign magazine article more than three decades ago, Sister Teixeira’s father — Arnaldo Teles Grilo, who was the country’s second patriarch — said he had “dreams of the day when there could be a temple in Portugal.”

The Lisbon Portugal Temple at night, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
The Lisbon Portugal Temple at night, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

And Elder Teixeira spoke of his parents traveling some 600 kilometers each way for their regularly scheduled service in the Madrid Spain Temple for more than decade, with his father as a sealer there. Fernando Teixeira spoke at the Lisbon temple’s Dec. 5, 2015, groundbreaking and had looked forward to the new temple, but he passed away this past April.

“I’m sure he is rejoicing today,” said Elder Teixeira.

Dedication and cornerstone ceremony

Joining Elder Andersen and Elder Teixeira in the weekend dedication assignment in Lisbon were their wives, Sister Kathy Andersen and Sister Teixeira, as well as 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, also a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department, and his wife, Sister Nancy Duncan.

Sunday’s dedication was done in three sessions at the temple, with Elder Andersen offering both his remarks and the dedicatory prayer in Portuguese. With the exception of a rare talk in English, the proceedings of Sunday’s three sessions were done in the local language.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to members before applying mortar at the cornerstone ceremony of the Lisbon Portugal Temple dedication on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. He is joined by his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to members before applying mortar at the cornerstone ceremony of the Lisbon Portugal Temple dedication on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. He is joined by his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen. Credit: Scott Taylor

The opening session featured the traditional cornerstone ceremony, the only public-facing part of the dedication, with the rest of the services available only to members holding special recommends or tickets, as received from and signed by local leaders.

Elder and Sister Andersen — and others as invited by him — used trowels to place mortar around the cornerstone, which reads: “Erigido em 2019” (“Erected in 2019”). The placing of the mortar — only temporarily in the ceremony and substituted later by professionals — symbolizes the completion of the temple, with members reminded that the Church is built on a foundation of prophets and apostles, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20).

Also, the dedication services were broadcast by satellite to members in meetinghouses throughout the temple district, with hundreds attending in the temple and the adjacent stake center for the 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. meetings.

Because of limited space, not everyone wanting to attend a dedicatory session in the temple was accommodated. Others faced different reasons for being unable to personally participate.

Inês Amaral, a 94-year-old pioneer member in Portugal, had anxiously anticipated attending the dedication. Decades earlier, she and her late husband, Fernando Dos Reis Amaral, were the first couple in Portugal to be sealed in the temple.

But in the week leading up to the dedication, she suffered a serious fall, resulting in a severely broken hip and hospitalization, and her unable to attend. She had been distraught and in tears over missing the occasion, until local leaders made arrangements to help her watch a special transmission of the dedication broadcast Sunday in her hospital room.

The Lisbon Portugal Temple faces towards the Ponte Vasco da Gama Bridge, which crosses over the Tagus River. Photo taken Sept. 14, 2019.
The Lisbon Portugal Temple faces towards the Ponte Vasco da Gama Bridge, which crosses over the Tagus River. Photo taken Sept. 14, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

Gabriela Melo was looking forward to the dedication as well, until a new position at the Lisbon hotel where she works required her to be present for training both weekend days of the dedication.

However, she was working the reception desk at the separate times when Elder and Sister Andersen and Elder and Sister Duncan checked in at her hotel. She recognized them, introduced herself as a Latter-day Saint and spoke with both couples about the dedication. The Andersens returned later to re-engage her in conversation.

Admittedly disappointed to miss the dedication, Melo said the interactions helped lessen the absence. “And in a small way,” she said, “I was able to help out.”

‘No retrenching, no retreating’

From official government recognition in 1974 to the first missionaries later that year and the country dedication following in April of the next, the Church has experienced considerable growth over the decades in Portugal. In July 1975, membership in the country reached 100; three years later, 1,000. In 1981 came the first stake, with four others following before the end of the decade.

Today, Portugal is home to 45,000-plus Latter-day Saints as well as six stakes, 68 congregations, one mission and four districts.

“All this has happened in the last 45 years,” said Elder Andersen, as he was mindful of what a new temple in Lisbon means to Portugal.

Young men help assist those attending the temple dedication by securing shoe coverings for them outside the Lisbon Portugal Temple on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.
Young men help assist those attending the temple dedication by securing shoe coverings for them outside the Lisbon Portugal Temple on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

“After the Savior has returned to the Earth and the true history of Portugal has been written, the dedication of this holy house will be a crowning moment in this great nation.”

Calling the 45 years from the dedication of Portugal as a country to the dedication of its first temple “a time of enormous spiritual satisfaction,” he added, “Now we have the House of the Lord, which is a symbol that we’re going to be here until the Savior returns.

“There is no retrenching, There is no retreating.”

Only moving forward — to explore, to discover and to return home.