Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rededication of Mexico City temple prompts believers to reflect on growth

Picture of the Mexico City temple
from 200, before the rededication.
(via Saucedo)
By: Sam Howard
Edited by: Joshua Lim

A summer that saw a rededication ceremony and a three-week public open house at the Mexico City temple says it all for Antonio Hernández Sanchez.

To Hernández, a lifelong parishioner in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is proof of the church’s rapid growth in a nation that has the second-most Mormons of any country in the world.

The 52-year-old Mexico City resident made sure he was there for the rededication ceremony in mid-September, presided over by church President Henry Eyring.

The ceremony was “especial,” Hernández said, for many reasons.

Special, he said, to welcome thousands of Mormons and non-Mormons alike into Mexico’s biggest and oldest temple.

And special, he said, to see firsthand the fruits of his church’s growth in Latin America — and his home country of Mexico, in particular.

The LDS Church first came to Mexico on the backs of six missionaries in 1876, sent by forefather, American Brigham Young. The Mexico City temple was founded in 1983. Since 1989, the number of Mormons in Mexico has more than doubled, according to LDS Church statistics.

Currently the church estimates there are just under 1.4 million Mexican Mormons, though the Mexican government’s 2010 census claimed that number was much lower, just above 300,000.

There are roughly 6.5 million Mormons in the U.S., according to the latest church estimates.

The haves and have-nots
Hernández, a middle school teacher, said the recipe for growth is simple: It boils down to the haves and have-nots.

Mexico has a good deal of the latter, he said.

“The people are looking for a better life,” Hernández said.

His lifelong friend, Josue Carmona, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, but often returns to his homeland, agrees.

Though, as Carmona puts it, his parents “barely went to school;” his desire for a better life only strengthened his faith.

The 56-year-old translator said that desire is the same for many throughout Mexico — and it is what draws people to the LDS Church, sometimes in droves.

“We very strongly believe (in our faith), because the church helped us keep our eyes on new horizons,” he said.

The LDS Church, an offshoot denomination of protestant Christianity, was established by New Yorker Joseph Smith in 1830. Within 20 years, Mormon pioneers settled in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley, where Salt Lake City was later established.

In 1983, LDS officials dedicated their Mexico City temple, the country’s first. During the last 32 years, the church has built 11 more temples throughout the large nation.

Though many Mexican Mormons now have a temple within two or three hours of driving time, the Mexico City temple remains most important for many, said Jose Manuel Castillo Estrada.

The 28-year-old teacher supervisor said he watched a live transmission of the Sept. 13 rededication ceremony with more than 100 other Mormons at a stake center in his native Tehuacán, a city of about 250,000 residents roughly 300 kilometers southeast of Mexico City.

Castillo said the temple is a reminder of the early days of the church in Mexico, when many needed to travel hundreds of miles just to link up with a congregation to worship alongside.

“The Mexico City temple is more important for us … (and) it represents a lot for us,” he said.

Castillo said he usually worships with a fairly small congregation — usually about 60 or 70 people — but added that he thinks the small size attracts newcomers looking for a family in faith.

“Family is very important (to Mexicans),” he said. “The church preaches about families. That’s something most people are interested in.”

The Oakland California Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints. (via Calibas)
Mormon teachings in Mexico similar to the United States
What church leaders teach and how they teach it — be it through prayers, sermons or hymns — are essentially the same as their counterparts in temples and churches throughout the U.S., said Kaitlynn Nall, an American Mormon currently living in Tehuacán.

Nall, who is taking time away from studying international studies at Brigham Young University - Idaho to teach English at Castillo’s school, said kids even hear the same Sunday school lessons they would in the U.S.

She said her congregation size is roughly the same as some churches she’s worshipped in the U.S.

But doctrine aside, the 23-year-old Brigham Young junior said there are many cultural differences she’s had to adjust to.

“When there are church activities, it’s all very different,” she said. “Mexicans love to dance.”

Nall said they particularly love the cumbia – a dance with African, Native American and Spanish roots that is sort of similar to the salsa.

Compared to other Latin American countries, the Mexican church stands out, said Anthony Yovera Cuba by email. The 22-year-old now lives in Callao, Peru and works for insurance company Pacífico Seguros, but did a two-year mission in Guadalajara, Mexico’s fourth-largest city.

Yovera attributes Mexico’s “very large” church population to its proximity to the U.S. and the convenience that offers LDS leadership.

One of his favorite things about the church is certainly the same worldwide: The Book of Mormon, the religion’s sacred text.

“I love the Book of Mormon very much,” Yovera said. “I read it when I go to work on the bus.”

That dedication to one’s faith, Castillo said, is common to see throughout Mexico, regardless of faith.

Fewer than 5 percent of the population reported not following a religion in the nation’s 2010 census.

“I think, in general, Mexican people are religious,” Castillo said. “It doesn’t matter their religion or faith.

“Most people are looking for God all their lives.”

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