President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, both native Europeans, returned “home” to participate in a stake conference broadcast originating in Zollikofen, Switzerland, on June 8. Proceedings of the conference were transmitted by satellite to 31 stakes and one district in Albania, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. President and Sister Uchtdorf also traveled to Warsaw, Poland, and Rome, Italy.
After returning to Salt Lake City, President Uchtdorf shared impressions about his trip with the Church News.
He spoke of the modern technology that connected members in different countries, but emphasized that it is more impressive “how we all are connected and divinely united by our faith in Jesus Christ and His restored gospel.”
The setting for the broadcast was especially meaningful to President and Sister Uchtdorf, as it originated from the Zollikofen chapel, which is adjacent to the Bern Switzerland Temple.
President David O. McKay dedicated the temple in 1955. In remarks at the broadcast, Sister Uchtdorf said that she, her sister and mother joined the Church in 1954, eight months after her father passed away. In 1956, she traveled from Germany with her mother and sister to the Swiss Temple to be sealed as a family. Their branch president served as proxy for her father.
“Our branch president had rented a van. We immediately signed up for the trip. In 1956, traveling to another country was quite unusual. It almost felt like a worldwide journey. We sang the hymns of the Restoration, we shared our individual conversion stories and enjoyed being together on this long drive to our first temple visit.”
President Uchtdorf said he, his sister and two brothers were sealed to their parents in the Swiss Temple in 1957.
Before the temple was dedicated, he and Harriet went almost weekly with other teenagers in their branch to wave goodbye to members who were immigrating to the United States. This changed when the temple was built, since it provided an anchor for the Saints in Europe.
“We European members then focused on the Swiss Temple as our spiritual powerhouse and remained in our own countries and built the kingdom of God in Europe. Harriet and I were married in the Swiss Temple, as were our children.”
President Uchtdorf said the conference for members in Western Europe was held on this year’s Day of Pentecost. He felt that was symbolic. Just prior to the conference, he offered a prayer of blessing on the country, reminiscent of the blessing Elder Lorenzo Snow offered more than 170 years ago on a mountain close to the borders of Switzerland, Italy and France.
“Elder Snow said, ‘We have here no temple — no building made by human hands, but the mountains tower around us.’”
President Uchtdorf said that with the prayer he offered and the stake conference broadcast, June 8 was as a day of new beginnings. “The Spirit can lead us to build Europe in a manner that it will grow and move forward like never before. There is a further building of temples, including the temples in Rome and Paris. The Paris temple is a testimony of the faith of the Saints in this part of Europe.” (The Church News reported on the Paris France Temple in the issue for the week of June 22, 2014.)
President and Sister Uchtdorf visited the Rome temple site during their travels.
“The Rome temple is significant for the Church in Italy, not only for its physical presence, but also as a monument to the growth of the Church. For centuries, Rome has been the Christian hub throughout the world.”
In Warsaw, Poland, President Uchtdorf presided over and addressed a missionary meeting on Saturday, June 14, and a member meeting on Sunday, June 15. He said, “The members feel the influence of the Spirit and are strong because they have made a conscious decision to say, ‘Yes, we want to be members of the Church.’ They need to get together and be close to each other, to be united, help each other and make a difference. The gospel really brings a joyful countenance to their faces. The members of the Church are a joyful people; they really are a light to their country.”
President and Sister Uchtdorf were impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the missionaries.
“They have a radiance of goodness and spiritual strength, which will bless the Polish people forever.”
While in Poland, President and Sister Uchtdorf visited the concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He said, “Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a place where you go as a tourist, but it is a place where you need to go.
“We grew up being taught and learning a lot about the Holocaust. We have visited the Holocaust museums in Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. and have visited various concentration camps. Auschwitz is a place where you profoundly grieve for the suffering of so many people. . There are not enough words available to describe or explain or understand the solemn and sobering feeling one has while visiting this place of the Holocaust.”
President Uchtdorf said the gospel, which teaches the love of God and fellowman, is the greatest healer, even for the worst circumstances in life.
During portions of their travels, President and Sister Uchtdorf were accompanied by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen; Elder José A. Teixeria of the Seventy and President of the Europe North Area, and his wife, Sister Filomena Teixeria; and Sister Linda S. Reeves of the Relief Society general presidency and her husband, Brother Melvyn K. Reeves.