Cover Story: Bogota Temple Gift of inner peace in a troubled land
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BOGOTA, COLOMBIA The dedication of the Bogota Colombia Temple by President Gordon B. Hinckley was "the greatest event in the history of Colombia," according to many who attended the dedication April 24-26.
Colombian members from throughout the nation rejoiced at the dedication, grateful that the temple provides them a place of refuge in their troubled land.
Many consider the elegant edifice to be the most beautiful building in Bogota, if not all of Colombia. Much of the design and craftsmanship was done by Colombians. The temple's Brazilian granite exterior glistens in the sunlight and is subdued in rain, its grayness harmonizing with mists around it. Within a red-grained wood highlights soft pastels. The celestial room's crema marfil marble imported from Italy curves gracefully above the doors, counterpoint to a dazzling crystal chandelier.
At the dedication of the Church's 57th temple, President Hinckley was accompanied by his wife, Marjorie. As soon as the cornerstone was put in place and the first session ended April 24, the fast-paced Church president traveled to Santiago, Chile, for a large regional conference. In his absence, President James E. Faust, who attended with his wife, Ruth, presided at six subsequent sessions. President and Sister Hinckley returned April 26, for the final four sessions. Accompanying them were Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Dantzel.
Elder Francisco J. Vinas of the Seventy and president of the South America North Area, and his first counselor, Elder Robert J. Whetten, attended and spoke at each session. They were accompanied by their wives, Cristina Vinas and Raquel Whetten.
More than 11,300 members attended the 11 dedicatory sessions. Another 500 or so members were not able to attend because of a transportation strike. Others experienced various problems during lengthy trips by bus to the nation's largest city of 9 million people.
Among those who rejoiced at the temple's completion was President Hinckley.
"What a marvelous occasion this is," he said in a Church News interview. "From the initial announcement of this temple until now has been 15 years. We've had trouble of one kind or another the location, the site, trying to get property and many other factors, but finally it has happened.
"And what a beautiful building it is the workmanship is superb. I have never seen any (stonework) finer, anywhere. It is beautiful, a fitting monument to the good people of Colombia."
President and Sister Faust remarked at how much they enjoyed the occasion and of the beauty of the new temple.
"We are overwhelmed by the magnificent beauty of the temple," President Faust said. "It exceeds our expectations the architecture is extraordinary and the many features of it make it really quite distinct. The beautiful stonework, which is found in the floors and elsewhere in the celestial room, is extraordinary."
He reflected that in 1975 he had been assigned to preside over South America when there was but one mission in Colombia. There are now four missions in Colombia.
"Now to see the progress and growth of the Church has been thrilling and exciting," he said.
"So with all our hearts we rejoice in the progress that has taken place, and the fact that we now have this beautiful temple here in this city. The temple appears to be the outstanding building in Bogota, and possibly in the whole country, and it has attracted much attention."
President Faust said that in the dedicatory sessions, "the choirs sang wonderfully well, the remarks of the Brethren were uplifting, inspiring and special. We consider it a distinct honor and privilege to have had President Hinckley attending these dedicatory sessions.
"We felt the presence of the Spirt in all of the sessions, and the comforting Spirit of the Holy Ghost in all the proceedings of the temple."
President Faust observed that "Our Saints have been moved to tears to be able to participate in the dedicatory sessions. People have come from as far as Pasto and Medellin and other places, traveling by bus up to 22 hours, and then getting on the bus and going back to Medellin and other places that are so far distant."
Elder Nelson said that "it was a privilege to participate in the dedicatory services of the Bogota Colombia Temple, to speak with the people who were lined up to enter the temple on Tuesday morning after the temple was dedicated. They were lined up waiting for the doors of the temple to be open. That was a thrill. They were lined up by the hundreds to enter that dedicated temple to receive their endowments, great joy in their faces, tears in many of their eyes.
"It was also a great experience to witness the power of the Lord descend upon the president of the Church, President Hinckley, and his counselor, President Faust, as they spoke to the people with great power and majesty."
Elder Vinas, who served as chairman of the temple committee, also noted the emotion of the members in the sessions as he spoke to the Church News, and attributed it to their spiritual readiness for a temple. Their readiness and the readiness of many of their friends and neighbors was also shown at the open house, at which some 10,000 missionary referrals were received. For the past three weeks, missionaries have worked long days and skipped their preparation days to respond to the requests to hear the gospel. In one small branch, for example, two sets of missionaries had 400 referrals to which to respond. Missionaries said an average of 20 people each day expressed interest in joining the Church.
This outpouring of interest, along with the great number of members some 130,000 now in Colombia, represents a fulfilling of prophecy made by President Spencer W. Kimball when he dedicated Colombia for the preaching of the gospel in 1978, Elder Vinas said.
"The members here worked very hard to invite the people to attend the open house," he explained, "and the people who attended spoke very highly of the concept of the eternal family. They felt the temple was important. There was a lot of interest among the public about the sealing ordinances for the family, to have children sealed to parents.
"Now, no one is justified in not receiving their ordinances because the temple we have long dreamed about is here."
Elder Whetten described the temple dedication as "a watershed event for the Church in Colombia."
"I am also impressed that this is a great day, not just for those of the present, but also for many others who have accepted the gospel in the spirit world."
He said that the peace in the temple contrasts with the difficulties that members "of this beautiful country with tremendous resources" face on a daily basis. "Colombia has real problems of internal strife and conflict that won't resolve themselves. So many areas are remote, and the culture engenders conflicts that won't go away tomorrow. So, for Colombia, the temple is a great blessing."
Berta Cruz, a member of 28 years, said that for her, the temple is a refuge. "We need a refuge," she said. "Life is very difficult. I always want to go to the temple because then I feel differently at home."
Newly called temple Pres. Jerry P. Cahill, a former mission president in Bogota, called his assignment "a homecoming of sorts" and a return to the "happy days" of serving in Colombia.
He said that after the dedication, an influx of faithful members would come to the temple and receive their long-awaited blessings, the ordinances for some 165 men and 165 women, and 36 sealings in the first two days.
As the people come to the temple, he continued, "I hope they will savor their experience and come back again and again. We will try to make it a wonderful experience for them."
He said the temple has already had a beneficial effect among the people, who have submitted 28,000 family names for ordinance work.
"This can't help but have a whole change of attitude in the perception of what the gospel of Jesus Christ really is, and it will mean more now than ever before."
Rosamenta Escobar was baptized 32 years ago and just last year her husband joined the Church. They plan to be sealed in July. "I am now able to have all my family go to the temple," she said. "I feel very blessed."
Another family that has waited is Orlando Parraga, 73, and his wife, Claudia Medrano de Parraga of the Las Villas Branch of the Soacha District. Baptized 24 years ago, he expressed appreciation for the privilege of attending the temple. "Heavenly Father has allowed us to take part in this marvelous opportunity, and we are ready now," he said. "It was not hard to wait; with Heavenly Father, nothing is difficult."
Orlando Cans of the Medellin 3rd Ward noted that the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Joel spoke of the temple, and of the blessings that come "when the Lord's hand is over all."
"This is a time of great joy for my family because we are able to help our ancestors in their salvation. They can now make progress toward eternal life, and we will be united with them when the world ends."
Leopoldo Ramos, a former regional representative and vice chairman of the temple committee, personally greeted many of the members as they arrived in buses to attend the dedication.
"The temple places the history of the Church in Colombia in two parts," he said. "That which came before the temple, and that which comes after the temple. Almost all the members speak of the temple and rejoice. It is a great experience for Colombians, and it opens the doors for members of the Church throughout the world."
One of the earliest members was Julio Davila, a former member of the Seventy and regional representative. "From the first chapel to the present, we now have a temple. Our dream is now in concrete."
Members from Pasto, Colombia, traveled the longest distance to the temple, which is about 300 miles to the northeast of them, where the roads to Bogota take about 20 hours to negotiate by bus. One of these was Nury Diaz of the Miraflores Ward, Pasto Colombia Stake, who said of her long journey: "We felt protected by Heavenly Father."
The difficulties of the trip were not important, she said. What is important is "what happened inside the temple. It was was marvelous. We felt the Spirit very strongly. We are grateful for the temple. We are very happy and we feel peace inside."