MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Days before the rededication of the Mexico City Mexico Temple, a team of gardeners planted hundreds of festive poinsettias around the perimeter of the newly refurbished edifice. Mexicans call the native plant the "Flor de La Nochebuena," or "Christmas Eve Flower" to commemorate the happy, life-changing events of Christmas Eve.
The red-petalled flowers seemed apt symbols of joyful, new beginnings as Mexicans gathered Nov. 16 to participate in the reopening of their country's first and largest temple. After being closed for more than 18 months to accommodate extensive refurbishing, this temple in one of the world's largest cities was rededicated by President Thomas S. Monson in two sessions. Thousands participated in the services inside the temple, while many more viewed the proceedings via closed-circuit broadcast transmitted to meetinghouses in Mexico, Canada and the United States.
President Monson has a long-established connection to Mexico. When he was a youngster growing up in a west side Salt Lake City community, young Tommy Monson was friends with the neighborhood boys of Mexican descent. He ate at their family kitchen tables and honed a taste for their mothers' homemade enchiladas.
Decades later, as a counselor in the First Presidency, he presided over Mexican temple dedications in Merida, Tampico, Veracruz and Villahermosa.
"I love these people," he told the Church News following the rededication sessions. The Church president has witnessed Mexico become a land of temples. Twelve such dedicated edifices are in operation here. "And there will be more," he promised.
When asked how folks living in the Mexico City temple district can get the most from the rededicated temple, President Monson offered a resolute response: "Use it. The best way to appreciate this temple is to use it."
Those who follow his counsel and visit the Mexico City Mexico Temple in the coming weeks and months will encounter a dramatically different building. The temple's distinctive, Mayan-influenced exterior was brightened with a new shell of white concrete. Meanwhile, extensive work in the interior can be found throughout the building. New carpeting, paint, stone floor work, ornate glass features and chandeliers beautify the temple as it approaches its 25th birthday. The original paintings and murals that line the temple walls are distinctly Mexican in both subject and style.
Work was also performed on the temple's foundation to fortify the 35,551-square foot structure.
Some of the 264,000 members served by the Mexico City Mexico Temple were able to travel during the closure period to other temples in the country for temple worship. Some have not been so fortunate. Church convert Cesar Vargas loves the temple. "It's where God speaks to me," he said. But for almost 18 months, Brother Vargas has not been able to use his temple recommend.
"It's been very difficult — it's like something is missing from my spirit and body," he said.
A few days before the rededication ceremony, Brother Vargas said he was already preparing himself to be taught by a prophet and return to the temple. "I will be very attentive to what President Monson has to say."
President Ned B. Roueche and his wife, Sister JoAnn Roueche, know something of happy returns. The Roueches were serving, respectively, as president and matron of the Mexico City Mexico Temple at the time of its closure. They were thrilled to learn they would be returning to their callings following the rededication.
"It's been a long time getting the temple prepared and put back together...the Saints are anxious to come back," said President Roueche, a former Seventy.
In a conversation prior to the rededication ceremonies, Sister Roueche said the visit from President Monson will invigorate those who have been away from the temple for a time. "Seeing our prophet, a living prophet, is exactly the thing that is needed. The people here will know that President Monson loves them."
With 11 temples opening here over the past decade, Mexico has earned the title "A Nation of Temples." Still, many remember a time in the not-too-distant past when Mexicans claimed temple blessings only after great sacrifice and expense. Without a temple inside their own country, devout members would save, scrimp and pray to make a trip to U.S. temple cities such as Mesa, Ariz., or Salt Lake City.
"There were people who sold their homes to go to the temple in Mesa," said Sister Celia Becerra, who serves in the temple with her husband, President Juan Becerra of the temple presidency. "After visiting the temple, they would return to their hometowns and begin their lives all over again."
Much of that burden was lightened when President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Mexico City Mexico Temple almost a quarter-century ago. For the first time for Mexicans, temple work did not require a border crossing. The impact of an accessible temple in the lives of members here cannot be overstated, said President Becerra.
"You can point to the temples as the reason why families are stronger here in Mexico," he added.
The Mexico City Mexico Temple refurbishing project has offered new opportunities for local residents to learn about the Church. Many who, perhaps, passed by the temple each morning and evening were able to walk its halls and learn its eternal, family-centered mission for the first time prior to the rededication. Some 91,000 people toured the temple during its open house period. Missionaries collected more than 10,000 referrals from people who wanted to learn more.
Several adults who walked from the temple following one of the rededication ceremonies recalled attending the original temple dedication. Others who participated were born years after that moment. They all agree that good things happened in Mexico City after that historic event. Good things again await.
"The spirit I felt inside the temple today was very special; you don't have many chances to see a prophet," said 17-year-old Valerie Lopez. "I really love the temple."
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