The Mormon church will build five temples in cities worldwide, including the restoration of an historic church building in Utah that was destroyed in a fire last year, the faith's president said Saturday.
"No church-built facility is more important than a temple," said Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Temples are places where relationships are sealed together to last through the eternities."
The church, with its 14.1 million members, has 135 operating temples worldwide and has another 31 planned or under construction. The new temples will be in Barranquilla, Colombia; Durban, South Africa; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; and Star Valley, Wyo.
The church will also restore the fire-ravaged Provo Tabernacle and convert it into a temple, Monson said during the opening session of the faith's semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City. Temples are considered sacred to Latter-day Saints and are used for religious rituals including proxy baptisms, marriage ceremonies and other rites, often referred to as "ordinances," which are designed to strengthen church teachings.
The towering white buildings differ from the church meeting houses used for regular Sunday services. Temples are closed on Sundays and open only to church members considered worthy — a designation achieved through tithe paying and a faithful adherence to the standards of conduct expected by the church.
Built between 1883 and 1898, the Provo Tabernacle had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975 until it burned last December. A three-month investigation found the fire began in the attic and was caused largely by human error.
A lamp on a wood speaker was left on after a dress rehearsal for a choir concert, and then a security guard turned off a fire alarm instead of calling authorities. Investigators also found that smoke detectors weren't properly placed around the building.
When completed, the facility will be the second temple in Provo.
Members encouraged to memorize Book of Mormon
Tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints have gathered in Salt Lake City for the fall installment of the church's twice-yearly general conference, with millions more participating through satellite, radio or Internet broadcasts. They congregate in April and October to hear words of inspiration and guidance from senior church leaders.
The two-day event for the Utah-based church is in its 181st year.
Five two-hour sessions are planned at the church's 21,000-seat conference center in downtown Salt Lake City. Three sessions are planned for Saturday, including an evening event only for church men.
On Saturday, speakers encouraged members to study and memorize the scriptures, including passages from the faith's central text, the Book of Mormon.
"Great power can come from memorizing the scriptures," church Elder Richard G. Scott said. "To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It's like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change."