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Jesuit Pope Francis meets with President Nelson in the Vatican, discussion includes joint projects with Catholic Relief Services

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met today at the Vatican in the first-ever face-to-face discussion between the heads of the two global churches.

“The differences in doctrine are real and they’re important,” President Nelson said afterward as he stood just outside St. Peter’s Square, “but they’re not nearly as important as the things we have in common — our concern for human suffering, the importance of religious liberty for all of society, and the importance of building bridges of friendship instead of building walls of segregation.”

The two world religious leaders shared a belief that faith in God brings morality and stability to society.

“If we have a godless society, we have a rudderless ship,” President Nelson said.

The pope extended the invitation for a private audience to the Latter-day Saint leader in conjunction with President Nelson’s trip this weekend to Italy, where he will dedicate the history-making new Rome Italy Temple.

The two men met for 30-35 minutes and also discussed their mutual concern for the youth in their churches, their concern about secularization and the desire for people to worship God, President Nelson said.

President M. Russell Ballard, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, joined President Nelson in the meeting, along with Elder Massimo De Feo, a General Authority Seventy, and Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci, an Area Seventy. President Nelson’s executive secretary, Mark Woodruff, also attended.

The pope presented President Nelson with two gifts, his declarations on the family and on the Islamic faith. President Nelson gave the pope a Lladro figurine of the Christus statue and a copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

President Ballard said Pope Francis enjoyed the fact that he and President Nelson have had sons and grandchildren who served missions in the pope’s homeland of Argentina.

“He was very kind to us. We could not have asked for a more fulfilling experience,” said President Ballard of the meeting.

The Vatican did not offer any comment on the meeting but released photos from the midday audience with the pontiff.

The pope and President Nelson embraced at the end of their time together.

“They gave each other a hug as we left that said everything,” President Ballard said.

President Nelson invited Pope Francis to Salt Lake City and to the Rome Italy Temple.

“He’s a dear, wonderful, humble, competent, gracious man,” President Nelson said . “I respect him highly.”

After the meeting, the Latter-day Saint leaders smiled as they walked arm in arm down Via della Conciliazione — the Road of the Conciliation — to address a large media contingent with the iconic St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

The most senior Latter-day Saint leader to meet with a pope before today was President Henry B. Eyring, who was greeted by Pope Francis in November 2014 when both spoke at an international marriage summit at the Vatican. President Eyring then was the first counselor in the First Presidency.

A visit between a pope and the man considered a prophet by millions of Latter-day Saints would have been unimaginable to leaders and members in both churches 50 years ago. Clandestine olive branches and decades of détente were necessary, according to sources from both faiths interviewed for this story. That is exactly what has happened. In fact, today’s meeting is a culmination of a web of deepening and expanding alliances between the Latter-day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church and its many sister organizations.

That growing relationship has intensified during the past decade, resulting in collaborations that now have the two churches working side-by-side all over the world on projects vast and tiny.

The Deseret News conducted more than 20 interviews with people from both faiths around the world, from Bosnia to Rome and from Salt Lake City to Norway, to provide a definitive look at how the churches’ combined efforts are not only helping to resolve differences between their own members but delivering emergency humanitarian aid to some of the world’s most vulnerable people — including many at the U.S.-Mexico border — as well as working to defend religious liberty and to bolster families.

“We explained to His Holiness that we work side by side, that we have projects with Catholic Relief Services all over the world, in over 43 countries,” President Ballard said. “We’ve been shoulder-to-shoulder as partners, and try to relieve suffering, trying to help people that are struggling. He was very interested in that and was very cordial , very kind to us.”

Elder De Feo called the meeting an historic event and said the two world religious leaders shared a respect for one another and their institutions.

“I had a wonderful feeling the minute we entered when I saw President Nelson, President Ballard and the the pope connecting together,” he said. “It was a wonderful feeling to see how they seemed to be like old friends after a minute.

Image credit: President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome, Italy on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The Vatican

President Nelson is speaking about the Jesuit pope below

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Image credit: AP News

Church efforts in Arizona help migrants, refugees from around the world (after they have entered the US illegally)

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have served the influx of refugees and migrants entering Arizona in recent years, they have hoped that they are following the Savior’s example to provide relief.

“The needs are very basic,” said Arizona JustServe director Ruth Pagán. “When you think about Matthew 25:35-40, the Lord is saying, ‘When I was an hungered, you brought me food. When I was naked, you clothed me.’ These are really basic needs people have.”

She said this resonates with Church members and JustServe volunteers because they can imagine what it would be like to be hungry or not have food to give to their children. They can imagine what it would be like to be on a street or in a tent outside in the heat, or traveling for miles in unclean clothes.

“All those things are very basic, but people can relate to this in a personal way because we all need those things,” Pagán said. “All of these people are God’s children, and they are all deserving. They have human dignity.”

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Image credit: A group of refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia gather for a photo after applying for citizenship in May 2019 at the Church’s immigration welcome center in Mesa, Arizona. All the refugees have since become citizens. | Provided by Ruth Pagán

Latter-day Saint Charities donates $5 million to assist refugees resettling in U.S.

These NGOs, and others, are responsible for millions of illegal aliens entering the USA since 2021

More than 9,000 refugees and immigrants are expected to benefit from $5 million-worth of grants donated by Latter-day Saint Charities.

The financial gift, announced Thursday, June 3, 2021, will be divided among nine refugee resettlement agencies which partner with scores of charitable organizations in the United States.

The agencies include:

  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  • U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
  • Church World Service
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS)
  • Episcopal Migration Ministries
  • Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC)
  • World Relief

The Church-provided grants will help refugees meet basic living expenses and obtain job skills training, according to a Newsroom release. The funds will also help youth with supplemental education training and case management services 

A portion of the donation will be used to purchase commodities for newly arrived refugees — including food, hygiene and furniture.

Alicia Wrenn, senior director of resettlement and integration with Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said Latter-day Saint Charities “has been an incredible friend and partner” over the years through cash donations and commodities from Deseret Manufacturing and the bishops’ storehouse.

“We have many heartfelt testimonials from our network of this impact, such as messages from clients who are sleeping on a mattress for the first time in their lives or mothers finally getting adequate supplies of diapers,” Wrenn said in the release. “Over and over we see clients feeling a sense of dignity finally receiving and living with basic household commodities.”

Wrenn said most of this year’s cash donation will be used for refugees’ emergency and technology needs.

“We know from the last year during the pandemic, and even through the first signs of recovery from it, how hard it is for clients to slot back into with ease the changed job market,” she said. “Having a reserve to support those clients who have lingering obstacles to gaining employment with their food needs or rent needs or medical expenses will be life-altering for some clients.”

Megan Bracy, director of refugee and migrant services for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the grant will help her organization “rebuild the refugee resettlement program to continue our work of welcome through economic empowerment, community connection, and direct client support, among other services. 

“Over the years, [Latter-day Saint Charities has] helped thousands of refugees find a safe, stable home in the United States — from furnishing apartments for families to supporting refugee mothers struggling to keep food on the table for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. We truly couldn’t do it without them, and we cannot express our thanks enough.”

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants will use the donation to help refugees who need immediate financial assistance and job training, said USCRI CEO Eskinder Negash. This includes those impacted by COVID-19, natural disasters, homelessness, mental health challenges and other emergencies.

“This generous grant from Latter-day Saint Charities will help us immensely in providing newly resettled refugees with the material assistance and support services they need to launch their new lives here in the U.S.,” Negash told Newsroom. “This grant means that our new neighbors will receive furnished housing and be connected to benefits and support services including upward mobility support and training.”