Hundreds of religious and civic leaders and LDS Church members gathered Wednesday afternoon at Welfare Square near downtown Salt Lake City as President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated buildings in the facility that has undergone a four-year renovation.
Originally built beginning in the 1930s to provide food and clothing for needy church members and others, the square has become the hub for the church's expansive welfare program.
"There is no greater service than this," President Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said of the church's commitment to providing help for those in need. "It is literally the fulfillment of the injunction of the Lord that 'if you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' "
Situated just off I-15 at 700 South and 700 West, the facilities recently renovated or replaced on the 13.5-acre square include a dairy production plant, a bakery, a cannery, the bishops' storehouse, an employment services and training center and Deseret Industries.
A granary, which was built in 1940, is the only facility not substantially updated or newly built.
Saying the welfare program is "as old as the church," President Hinckley recounted how the church has, from its origin, followed the principles outlined in a revelation to church founder Joseph Smith. He was "commanded to remember the poor, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants."
Such has been the "standing law of the church from the beginning," President Hinckley said, even though the Welfare program originally known as the Church Security Program wasn't formally organized until the 1930s.
Designed to "bless both the giver and the receiver," the program also helps church members understand the principles of self-reliance and gives them the opportunity to serve others, he said.
Bishop George Niederauer of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City told the congregation that though the two faiths may differ on doctrine, "it's difficult, if not impossible, to come up with differing interpretations" of the charge given by Jesus Christ to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and take in strangers.
In Utah, the LDS Church has made "enormous efforts to join with us of other faiths to respond to this call. This general mobilization of resources has benefitted so many people, and the forward vision of this place" will make possible even greater "joint efforts in the future. Each of us is rooted in our different traditions but joined together in the service of all," Bishop Niederauer said.
LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton said visitors come to Welfare Square from all over the world to see how the church provides for its own and others in needs.
He told of a Chinese ambassador who visited two years ago, and was impressed with the church's monthly "fast offering" in which church members voluntarily go without food for two meals and make a monetary donation for the missed meals to the church to care for the poor.
After he completed his visit to Salt Lake City, the ambassador found the director of Welfare Square and gave him a symbolic "red pocket" containing some money. "This represents the money I have saved from missing breakfast the last two mornings," he said."While that may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things," Bishop Burton said, "it represents a connection and a meeting of hearts where the principles of compassion and caring can serve as a bonding for all men."