From Peru, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico to Germany, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands, apostles from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fanned out across the globe this year in response to a robust and growing Church membership.
The goal of the apostles is to train local priesthood leaders on every continent and become personally acquainted with the unique challenges and needs of members from dozens of cultures. The Church now has nearly 14 million members, most of whom live outside of the United States.
Most recently, Elders Russell M. Nelson and M. Russell Ballard returned from Europe, where there are over 650,000 members of the Church in 43 nations.
Elder Nelson visited Church members in Ukraine, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. He met with Church members and with some of the more than 53,000 missionaries worldwide that are serving in the region. They met in chapels and in some cases outdoors for prayer services.
Time was spent in priesthood leadership conferences. The Church has a lay priesthood, meaning there are no salaried ministers. Instead, leaders are chosen from each congregation for a period of time to serve in various positions and receive training by senior Church leaders.
For example, during a conference in Stockholm, Sweden, priesthood leaders came from as far away as Iceland and Finland to learn about the role of a congregational leader and how to foster individual faith and conversion.
During the visits, Elder Nelson also offered special prayers for the Balkan nations and people and participated in the recent dedication of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple.
While in southeast Europe, Elder Nelson was accompanied by his wife, Wendy Nelson, Elder Erich W. Kopischke of the Seventy, and other local Church leaders.
Elder Ballard, accompanied by Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Seventy, met with thousands of Church members and missionaries in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.
“The respect and the wonderful reception that we received from every member of the Church we met and from the faithful, wonderful missionaries was the highlight of the visit,” Elder Ballard said.
When asked to describe Church membership in Europe, Elder Rasband responded with one word: resurgent. He attributes this energy to the younger generation introducing others to the Church. Elder Rasband says membership there is anything but stagnant, adding, “There’s a real excitement in Europe.”
Elder Ballard agrees. “We are introducing the gospel to a lot more young people who are really looking for something in their lives,” he said.
The trip took a historic turn in Rome, Italy, with what is believed to be the highest official visit between leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Vatican. The last time Church leaders spent time at the Vatican was in 1995, when then-president Gordon B. Hinckley gave a copy of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism to the Vatican Library.
During this visit, Elders Ballard and Rasband, along with other Church leaders, met with such distinguished Catholic leaders as Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, the Undersecretary for Relations with States; and Archbishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Elder Ballard characterized the meetings as warm and cordial, with a discussion about shared concerns over secularism and the erosion of the family. “We’re interested in moral values,” he said. “We’re interested in marriage. We’re interested in the family. We’re interested in those basic fundamentals which are of joint interest to people of faith everywhere.”
He also said leaders of both faiths must stand together for religious liberty. “Those who care need to stand together and have their voices heard. People of faith simply have to speak out. We’ve got to be together,” he said.
Catholic leaders expressed appreciation to the Church for its work protecting marriage and the family, while the Mormon leaders thanked them for Francis Cardinal George’s visit to Brigham Young University this year where he gave a keynote address on religious liberty.
Humanitarian relief was also a primary topic of discussion. Elder Ballard recounted his experience in Ethiopia during the 1985 famine where he was sent to determine how to best utilize funds donated by Church members.
One of the first people he met was the head of Catholic Relief Services, and they formed a friendship based on their desire to help the Ethiopian people. That was the beginning of a tradition of collaboration between the Church and Catholic Relief Services which has stretched into Russia, the Far East, Eastern Europe and other parts of Africa to relieve human suffering.
The series of meetings culminated with Church leaders presenting framed copies of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” to the Catholic leaders.
“Our purpose was to build relationships with them,” Elder Ballard said. “We had some very good discussions. We think we’ve made some great friends.”
In addition to the European visits by Elder Nelson and Elder Ballard, their colleagues in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also traveled the globe to conduct Church business. After visiting the Pacific area of the Church earlier in the year, Elder D. Todd Christofferson spent ten days in Peru, an area he referred to as “a bastion for the Church in Latin America.” Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy joined Elder Christofferson in conducting priesthood leadership conferences in Trujillo and Lima.
Elders L. Tom Perry and Richard G. Scott traveled to Russia and Eastern Europe. The apostles attended firesides and member conferences in Russia, Ukraine and Armenia. Elder David A. Bednar made two trips, first to the Caribbean and then to Mexico. Elder Neil L. Andersen visited Central America in February. Elder Dallin H. Oaks visited Asia twice this year, including stops in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Hong Kong. Elder Quentin L. Cook spent time in Australia and the Pacific during January.