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By David M. Bresnahan

June 26, 2002


NAUVOO, Ill. -- Latter-day Saints around the world rejoiced Thursday evening at the restoration and dedication of the Nauvoo Temple, destroyed by persecutors of their faith over 150 years ago.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considered this event so significant they gathered in over 2,300 locations around the world to participate in the dedication ceremonies by closed circuit satellite broadcast in 72 countries. The ceremony will be repeated in a total of 13 sessions ending on June 30 to give as many as possible an opportunity to attend.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, world leader of the Church, told the media at a news conference before the ceremony that "this is the greatest season in the history of the Church and it will only get better."

The LDS Church faced significant opposition and persecution when it was founded by Joseph Smith, who was shot and killed June 27, 1844 by an angry mob. At the time he was murdered he was being held in a jail in nearby Carthage on trumped up charges. Brigham Young became the next leader of the Church and completed the original Nauvoo Temple in 1846.

Newspapers of the day joined with persecutors to demand the "extermination" of Church members. The LDS people were soon driven from Nauvoo by mobs, which started the exodus to Utah led by Young. The Nauvoo Temple was burned by arsonists, and Church members have always revered the dedication of the pioneers who built it in the face of severe opposition and sacrifice.

Hinckley was often overcome with emotion as as he spoke during the dedication ceremony. He talked of Smith and the pioneers who sacrificed 10 percent of their assets, income, and time to build the original temple only to have it destroyed by persecutors.

The dedication ceremony began exactly 158 years from the very minute when Smith was martyred with his brother Hyrum.

"We're back in Nauvoo to dedicate this magnificent building, built on the same spot where our forebears constructed a temple that looked ... just like this, and worked through five years to build it, construct it, sacrificed everything to make it magnificent and then left it ... to go west," said Hinckley.

The rebuilt temple was made possible by donations and is part of a restoration project that has been underway to reconstruct many of the buildings of what was once the old city of Nauvoo. Most of the city was destroyed when Young led members of the Church to Utah, so restoration has been from the ground up.

Since the time of the Latter-day Saint exodus from Nauvoo to Utah, the Church has grown to more than 11 million members in 160 countries and territories. Once regarded as an "American church," there are now more members outside the United States.

At the peak in 1845 the population of Nauvoo was over 15,000. There are now only about 100 Latter-day Saints living in Nauvoo, with about 13,000 members in western Illinois and eastern Iowa who will use the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple. LDS people believe that the ordinances performed in temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God, and for marriages and families to last forever - not just "until death do us part."

This is the Church's 113th temple worldwide and 53rd in the continental United States. Hinckley has overseen the construction and dedication of more temples than any other LDS Church leader. He said there was good reason for the urgency of building so many temples.

"This Church is in a hurry to get its work done, we've got a big job to do," he said. "We've got to do work for the whole world and we don't have forever to do it. We're in a hurry."

He told reporters that Smith approves of the restored temple, and that he and other pioneers were spiritually in attendance at the dedication.

"I feel confident of that, and that Joseph Smith will be in that audience and Hyrum Smith will be in that audience and many others who gave their life and their time and their energies to the construction of that temple."

Temples are different from the thousands of meetinghouses or churches where members typically meet for Sunday worship services and midweek social activities.

"Everything that will occur in this temple henceforth will be concerned with the things of eternity," explained Hinckley. "Everything that takes place here the baptismal work, the ordinance work will all point in the direction of the conviction of our people that God has spoken, that the heavens have been parted, that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph and declared a system under which we believe in the eternity of the human soul, that life goes on, that this is not the end."

David M. Bresnahan - All Rights Reserved

David M. Bresnahan  is an award-winning independent investigative journalist. He maintains an archive of his work at  and offers a free e-mail alert so you will not miss any of his news stories or commentaries.