Mormon leader on refugees: ‘Their story is our story’ — Monson announces more temples

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Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

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In a stirring speech Sunday, an LDS British general authority called on the Mormon faithful to see themselves in the suffering of 1.25 million refugees flooding into Europe on a “perilous journey” to flee the ravages of war and political turmoil.

Early Latter-day Saints were “violently driven from homes and farms [in the Midwest] over and over again,” said Patrick Kearon, a member of the Seventy who directs the Utah-based faith’s relief efforts in Europe. “Their story is our story — and not that long ago.”

This crisis does not define today’s refugees, he added, “but our response will help define us.”

Kearon’s topical address stood out in the final session of the faith’s 186th annual General Conference — a day that began with LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson reminding thousands of Mormons in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching across the globe about choice and accountability.

“Our goal is to obtain celestial glory,” he said, “and the choices we make will, in large part, determine whether or not we reach our goal. … May we maintain the courage to defy the consensus. May we ever choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong.”

Monson’s remarks came after he offered a similarly short speech Saturday night during the all-male priesthood session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Together, his two talks, totaling about 10 minutes, represent his briefest stints at the pulpit during conference in his eight-year presidency. The church has said that the 88-year-old leader, viewed by Mormons as a “prophet, seer and revelator,” is “feeling the effects of advancing age.”

Monson, who attended all the conference sessions, did announce plans to build four more LDS temples ­— in Harare, Zimbabwe; Quito, Ecuador; Belém, Brazil; and, a second such edifice, in Lima, Peru.

He noted that when he was named an LDS apostle in 1963 at age 36, the church had 12 temples. With the recent dedication of the Provo City Center Temple, the LDS Church now has 150 operating temples — 16 in Utah, with plans for a 17th in Cedar City.

Kearon’s impassioned plea on behalf of refugees in the afternoon was more practical than other doctrinal-themed sermons and echoed what LDS female leaders said in the conference’s opening session a week ago, when they introduced a new churchwide aid program called “I Was a Stranger.”

Utah activists already have reported a dramatic spike in outreach to refugees since the church unveiled its initiative.

Working with 75 aid organizations in 17 European nations, Mormon congregations have “provided shelter and medical care … assembled many thousands of hygiene kits … have provided food and water, clothing, waterproof coats, bicycles, books, backpacks, reading glasses and much more,” Kearon said. “Individuals from Scotland to Sicily have stepped in to every conceivable role. Doctors and nurses have volunteered their services at the point where refugees arrive soaked, chilled, and often traumatized from their water crossings.”

Kearon said his church assignment over refugee relief has changed him.

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