MEXICO CITY — The colossal Aztec Stadium is anchored in Mexican sports history — it's hosted Summer Olympic events (1968) and a pair of World Cup soccer finals.

On Saturday, the storied venue secured a chapter in Mormon history. Some 87,000 people squeezed into the open-air stadium to hear counsel from President Thomas S. Monson and enjoy a Mexican cultural event that boasted a cast of more than 8,000 youths. It was perhaps the largest gathering to ever listen to an LDS president in person.

Meanwhile, with its sheer size and attendance, the event doubled as a reminder of the church's strength in Mexico. A few years ago, Mexico became the first nation outside the United States to past the million-member mark.

The cultural program was staged in conjunction with Sunday's rededication of the Mexico City Mexico Temple. It featured an 80-minute display of music, dance and Mexican history.

In his opening comments, President Monson spoke of his childhood connection to Salt Lake City's Mexican community. He had Spanish-speaking pals and developed a taste for enchiladas at their family dinner tables. He even performed an impromptu verse of the Spanish folk song "El Rancho Grande."

Events such as Saturday's program are special, he said. He urged his listeners to secure them to memory.

"Write in your journal tonight or tomorrow what you saw this evening; how you felt this evening," President Monson said.

His first counselor in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring, along with his daughter, Sister Ann M. Dibb, joined President Monson on the program. Sister Dibb serves as the second counselor in the church's Young Women General Presidency.

The cultural program featured folk dances from Mexican regions such as Chihuahua, Veracruz and Jalisco. The young actors also re-enacted moments from Mexican history, including the battle for independence and the Mexican Revolution. The show concluded with a medley of LDS hymns and a procession of full-time missionaries across the Aztec Stadium field.

When the weather cooled, President Monson and President Eyring pulled on colorful Mexican serapes to keep warm.

The tens of thousands inside the stadium closed the evening by coming to their feet and waving white handkerchiefs in the direction of the two church leaders. President Monson and President Eyring pulled out handkerchiefs of their own and returned the salute.


E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com