ST. GEORGE, UTAH
At the dedication of a newly refurbished Catholic church in this Utah city founded by Mormons, Elder M. Russell Ballard Aug. 23 praised the role of Catholic pioneers in the city's history.
"May God bless us, each and every one, to ever be found doing our full part in this wonderful work of building faith and working together in common cause for the benefit of mankind," said Elder Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, addressing an audience of Catholics, Latter-day Saints and others at a dinner celebration following a prayer service conducted by the Most Rev. John Wester, bishop of the diocese of Salt Lake City, which comprises Catholic congregations throughout Utah.
Elder Ballard was present at the invitation of the Rev. Gustavo Vidal, pastor of the St. George Catholic Church.
"Over the past few years, I have been privileged to sit as a member of the Alliance for Unity [in Salt Lake City] and have become well-acquainted first with Bishop George Niederauer of the Salt Lake diocese, and now with Bishop John Wester," Elder Ballard said. "They are men of warmth and integrity whom I count as cherished friends."
Elder Ballard told the audience some of his own progenitors were among Mormon pioneers who "placed on the altar everything they had to establish the communities of Utah." He added, concerning the settlers of St. George, "The Dixie pioneers faced great physical struggles against the elements, and they overcame hardship beyond what any of us can comprehend.
"Those called to come here found this environment and landscape most difficult. There was too little water. The heat was oppressive. Sickness could hardly be alleviated, and some of the settlers died. Babies had a very difficult time adjusting to the brackish water after they were weaned, and many did not survive. The sand blew constantly; women were very discouraged to find sand in their flour, in their bottled fruit, in their bed clothing — everywhere in their humble homes."
Father Lawrence Scanlan, whom Elder Ballard identified as "one of Utah's great pioneers," arrived in the territory on Aug. 14, 1873. "He immediately took action to develop several mission stations in the mining camps around the Salt Lake area. One might appropriately consider him a circuit rider, as he regularly visited each of these camps, tending to the needs of about 800 Catholics. The Salt Lake diocese had the distinction of having the largest geographical area of any diocese in the United States."
Perhaps Father Scanlan's crowning achievement, and a symbol of Catholic permanence in Utah, was the construction of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City, Elder Ballard said. The cathedral took 20 years to construct and was dedicated on Aug. 15, 1909.
Father Scanlan also visited St. George, Elder Ballard said, and conducted High Mass in the LDS Tabernacle on May 9, 1879. An LDS stake choir directed by John MacFarlane sang for the service.
"After Mass, Father Scanlan preached a discourse explatory of the doctrines of his church," Elder Ballard said. "At the beginning of his remarks, he said to the many Latter-day Saints who had come, 'I think you are wrong, and you think I am wrong, but this should not prevent us from treating each other with due consideration and respect.'"
Elder Ballard quoted this later comment from Father Scanlan: "A friendly feeling, which may eventually result in some good, has been of late years manifested by the Mormons toward the Catholic church and her institutions.... Instead of abuse, which is unmercifully poured out against them from Protestant pulpits, we preach catholic truth savoured with charity."
Elder Ballard said the same feeling of community and mutual respect was reflected much more recently in remarks given by Cardinal Francis George while addressing the BYU student body on Feb. 23 of this year. He quoted Cardinal George as saying, "I sometimes suspect, and maybe some of you do too, that Brigham Young and [Father] Scanlan would have been rather astonished at seeing the First Presidency of the Latter-day Saints and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir helping local Catholics celebrate the anniversary of their cathedral. But good for them and good for us! I thank God for the harmony that has grown between us and for the possibilities of deepening our friendships through common witness and dialogue."
Elder Ballard declared, "The great pioneers who preceded us to these valleys and small communities established a solid base from which we must not depart.... What better time than right now for each of us to widen our vision of what we can do individually and collectively to uphold the principles and values our Savior taught."
Patsy Lamb of the Utah South Area Public Affairs Council, which helped organize it, said the weeklong celebration began Aug. 16 and included five free concerts and two Masses at the church, a community leaders prayer service and two fund-raising dinners. One of the concerts featured Alex Boye, a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a recording artist in his own right.