Tears, gratitude and devotion define Sunday’s dedication of Church’s newest temple: the Arequipa Peru Temple

So just how did the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa get its unique name?

It’s a question apparently still being debated. But a centuries-old tradition suggests the name “Arequipa” derives from the age-old Andean phrase: ari qquepan — which loosely means “trumpet sound.”

That’s perhaps the prefered etymology for legions of Peruvian Latter-day Saints who now call Arequipa their “temple city.” With its trumpet-sounding statue of Angel Moroni standing prominently atop, the Church’s newest temple — the Arequipa Peru Temple — is issuing a joyful call of restoration and eternal possibility for all who enter. 

On Sunday, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated Peru’s third temple — and the first such edifice in the south end of the South American nation.

A little girl takes a turn placing mortar on the cornerstone of the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019.
A little girl takes a turn placing mortar on the cornerstone of the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Christmas may be more than a week away, but the opening of the Church’s 167th temple in this city renowned for its friendly people and rich Incan history is being called a timeless holiday gift.

“I can’t find the words to describe the overflowing joy and gladness in my soul,” said Ticona Alan Vargas, who presides over the Arequipa Peru Selva Alegre Stake. “I have never felt anything like this in my 15 years of membership in the Church.”

Sunday’s dedication “opened windows of heaven in our country,” added Arequipa resident Aida Ezratty Socolich. “Families will be blessed by the Lord because of the faithfulness and obedience of our members.”

Returning to Arequipa

Elder Soares is no stranger to Peru’s second largest city. 

While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, he accompanied Elder D. Todd Christofferson to Arequipa during the temple’s early construction period. He left Arequipa uplifted by the local members’ faith and “desire to follow the Lord.”

“The people in that area are very devoted, and the temple will bring a sense of increased responsibility to live according to the commandments of the Lord to deserve to be accepted into His house,” he reported from Peru. “I could feel how encouraged they were to prepare for the temple by aligning their lives with the requirements of the Lord to participate in His ordinances.”

Building a temple in Arequipa, he added, presented a few challenges.

“But the Lord opened the way [because] He inspired a prophet of God to proceed with the construction of the temple.”

Women in the cornerstone choir perform prior to the Dec. 15, 2019, dedication of the Arequipa Peru Temple.
Women in the cornerstone choir perform prior to the Dec. 15, 2019, dedication of the Arequipa Peru Temple. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

At Sunday morning’s cornerstone ceremony under sunny skies outside the temple, Elder Soares said it was “a glorious day for all who live in the Arequipa temple district — and for all who live in this beautiful country.”

The cornerstone ceremony is sacred and symbolic, he added.

“Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of this work and should be the cornerstone of our lives.”

Elder Soares was assisted at Sunday’s temple dedication by Elder Enrique R. Falabella, a General Authority Seventy and President of the South America Northwest Area; Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director in the Temple Department; and Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.

The visiting Brethren were accompanied by their wives — Sister Rosana Soares, Sister Ruth Falabella, Sister Nancy Duncan and Sister Darla Davies.

The temple was dedicated in three sessions and broadcast live to meetinghouses throughout the Arequipa temple district. The new edifice serves 70,000 members in southern Peru.

Elder Fernando P. Del Carpio, a Peruvian and Area Seventy, said Sunday that he’s overcome with joy knowing he has a role to play “in this great work.”

“Having a temple so close will help us prepare to receive our Savior Jesus Christ at His second coming,” he said.

Elder Falabella called Sunday “a day of jubilation” for the Arequipa-area Latter-day Saints — and for countless others who left mortality before receiving their own saving ordinances in a dedicated temple.

“They are still waiting for our assistance to receive those ordinances and to make those covenants that will allow them to continue on the path of eternity.”

Elder Ulisses Soares, left, and Bishop Dean M. Davies assist a little boy in placing mortar on the capstone of the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019.
Elder Ulisses Soares, left, and Bishop Dean M. Davies assist a little boy in placing mortar on the capstone of the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Elder Falabella shared with the Peruvian members his own family experiences of sacrifice in order to attend the temple. While growing up in Guatemala, the nearest temple was in Arizona. But the Falabellas eventually made it to the Mesa temple following significant trials. 

Their sacrifices yielded blessings. The Lord blessed the Falabellas, often through the kindness of others.

Such temple devotion, he said,  defines the Arequipan Latter-day Saints. 

“The members have demonstrated their faith, traveling 14 hours to visit the temple in Lima. Their sacrifices have now been rewarded. The Lord has blessed them with His home near their homes.”

The faces of the Peruvian Latter-day Saints participating in Sunday’s dedication “speak for themselves,” observed Elder Falabella.

“There are tears of joy and eyes full of light and hope. Their smiles testify of what they are feeling in their hearts.”

Counted among those rejoicing Sunday was Rocio Sango from Peru’s Ilo province. 

At the beginning of each year, Rocio has set a goal to make the 18-hour trip north to serve for a day or two in the Lima Peru Temple. Now a temple is within a half-day’s drive. She was recently called to be a family history consultant and has a new goal: attend the temple monthly.

“The Arequipa temple will bring us more blessings and greater spirituality,” she said. “Our people will grow closer to the Lord and they will see blessings in their lives. 

“This is a sign that the gospel is reaching all people in southern Peru.”

The potential of the Church in southern Peru is reflected in the spiritual maturity of the local Latter-day Saint youth. Elder Soares noted that many young people spoke in the various temple dedication sessions. Their participation is evidence of their capacity and commitment to serving in the Church’s newest temple.

A temple designed for Arequipa

Located a short drive north of Arequipa’s city center in the historic Carmen Alto district, the 27,000-square-foot Arequipa Peru Temple rests between Incan-era terraced fields, offering postcard-worthy views of three volcanoes surrounding the valley.

Architects utilized Baroque and Spanish Colonial building styles found in many of Arequipa’s most recognizable historic buildings. The temple exterior’s grey-white granite doubles as a nod to the soft, white Sillar stone commonly used in local architecture.

Elder Ulisses Soares, second from right, dedicated the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019. He wa assisted by, from left, Bishop Dean M. Davies, Elder Enrique R. Falabella and Elder Kevin R. Duncan.
Elder Ulisses Soares, second from right, dedicated the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019. He wa assisted by, from left, Bishop Dean M. Davies, Elder Enrique R. Falabella and Elder Kevin R. Duncan. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The temple’s interior features are also distinctly Arequipan. A stylized version of the Peruvian Texao flower is utilized throughout the temple — including in the carved hardwood, art glass window panels, metal fixtures, stonework and flooring and in decorative paintings.

 A pair of original paintings by artist Albin Veselka depict Christ’s ministry among the Lamanites and His tender interactions with Martha and Mary.

But local priesthood and Relief Society leaders — along with missionaries and returned-missionaries who have served in southern Peru — say the temple’s true beauty is found in the people who will be serving inside the newly dedicated edifice.

Dominique Stout, a Utahn who recently served a mission to Arequipa,  remembers a Seventy visiting her mission and reminding the young elders and sisters of the essential duties they were performing.

“He said that the work we were doing was a testimony that many of the deceased relatives of those that we were teaching were waiting for [our investigators] — and waiting for the work to be done,” she said. “It’s very exciting for a temple to be in Arequipa. The work will continue to a greater extent.”

Peru Arequipa Mission President Richard Marsh said the temple’s public open house offered missionaries priceless opportunities to teach about eternal marriage and other saving ordinances.

“Repeatedly, we had investigators and less active members wanting to make changes in their lives to be able to receive the blessings of the temple,” wrote President Marsh in an email. “There is a real, palpable spirit that can be felt at the temple.  Members, less actives and investigators alike — all commented on the wonderful spirit they felt.”

Rolando Sandoval, who presides over the Arequipa Peru Zamacola Stake, said the Arequipa Peru Temple will change hearts — making people both in and out of the Church more kind, generous and honest.

“Having the temple in Arequipa means having God’s house as our neighbor,” he said.

A historic city looks forward

A dedicated temple is operating in Arequipa. Its celebrated announcement, groundbreaking, construction, public open house and dedication are now history’s claim. 

A latter-day apostle who etched his own name on Arequipan Church history on Sunday understands that Peru’s newest temple offers both eternal blessings and a sacred responsibility.

A young family enjoys being together during the dedication of the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019.
A young family enjoys being together during the dedication of the Arequipa Peru Temple on Dec. 15, 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

 Frequent attendance in the new temple, taught Elder Soares, will secure “blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.”

“First we need to recognize that we need to be worthy of our temple recommend by living the commandments and honoring our covenants made with the Lord.”

And second, as members serve in the new Arequipa temple (or any other temple), “we receive more knowledge and understanding about the sacred ordinances we receive in the temple. They guide and lead our lives to goodness.”

The Brazilian-born apostle remembers a time, not that long ago, when temples were not found in South America. Following Sunday’s dedication in Arequipa, there are 21 temples operating on his native continent.

The Arequipa Peru Temple, he promised, will be a refuge of peace during times of trials. Its opening signals a future defined by brightness.

“As our minds expand on what the Lord has in store for us, we become more resilient and more willing to endure.”