News Release

Elder Ulisses Soares Visits Puerto Rico and Cuba for the First Time

Apostle ministered to Church members and met with several government and religious leaders and humanitarian organizations

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made a historic visit to the Caribbean. The Apostle's ministry included a series of meetings, during the week of November 8-13, with government and religious leaders, humanitarian partners and Church members in Puerto Rico and Cuba. He was accompanied by his wife Rosana Soares and Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy with his wife Lynette Cook.

Puerto Rico

The journey began in Puerto Rico with a review of the progress of the Church and its members and leaders in the Caribbean Area, where the Church has about 220,000 members living in 27 island countries or territories in the region.

"During our visit to Puerto Rico, we met with members, missionaries, and Church leaders on the island and it has been an extraordinary experience, recognizing the power the gospel has brought into their lives through their obedience and dedication," said Elder Soares. "It's a wonderful country, an island that has a lot of resources and a lot of good, kind, friendly people."

Elder Ulisses Soares visits the exhibition “My Family. My People”, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.© 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Elder Soares visited Plaza Las Americas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, in San Juan, where the exhibition "Mi Familia. Mi Gente," a Church-sponsored family history presentation was set up.  The exhibit provides visitors to the plaza with a unique, first-time experience of discovering the origin of their last name and being introduced to FamilySearch resources and other tools to start their own family history. It is the first exhibition of this nature to be held in Puerto Rico and will run until November 26.

That same evening, about 300 Latter-day Saints from the stakes of the Caguas, San Juan, and Toa Baja stakes gathered at the Guaynabo meetinghouse, San Juan Stake, for a devotional with other area and Puerto Rican leaders.

Sister Soares spoke about keeping promises made to God to receive His blessings and about cultivating righteous family traditions. She also referred to the need for the Church of Jesus Christ in the world and its importance in "the improvement, progress, and happiness of all of God's children." Sister Soares said, "The fact that we have a strong testimony today does not mean that it will always be so, but that we must meet frequently to hear the pleasing word of God, which we cannot do for ourselves, rather, we need the Church."

Élder Carl B. Cook, participa en el Devocional San Juan, Puerto Rico 2022© 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Elder Cook recalled the promises made by President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church, during his last visit to Puerto Rico in September 2018 that "the best is yet to come for the people of Puerto Rico." One month after his visit, during the October 2018 General Conference, the construction of a temple in San Juan was announced. President Nelson then invited youth and adults to prepare for the blessings of the temple by being worthy to have a recommendation for entering the house of the Lord. Elder Cook added, "President Nelson has said, 'I promise you that spending more time in the temple will bless your lives in ways that nothing else can.' I testify that it is so."

For his part, Elder Soares expressed his happiness at visiting the Island of Enchantment for the first time and praised the talent and grace of its members for music and singing, saying, "I am going to talk with President Nelson about the Tabernacle Choir, because we have already found an excellent substitute in Puerto Rico. Thank you for this beautiful music!", arousing the laughter of all present.

He referred to President Nelson's life example, highlighting his Christian attributes and inviting all to emulate him and incorporate those attributes into their lives. "I have never met a kinder person with more tender feelings than those that President Nelson harbors. He is an extremely patient and loving person. I also want to follow his example," he said.

Likewise, considering the difficulties that Puerto Ricans have had to face in recent years in the face of the onslaught of natural phenomena, he warned about the importance of not losing focus in the face of difficulties and temptations that may arise "because of a confused and troubled world," but that one must "follow the teachings of the prophet with good cheer,  faith and willingness, and then trust that we can count on God's power in our lives to meet the challenges."

At the end of his message, he pronounced a special blessing on those present and on all the people of Puerto Rico, whom he invited to "remain and build the kingdom of God in their own country," saying then that "living according to the principles of the Gospel and listening to the teachings of our prophet will strengthen their spirits and they will be in safe places; not only in this life but also on the other side of the veil. I promise you this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Pierre Gonzalez, president of the San Juan Puerto Rico Stake, who hosted and conducted the devotional, said, "It was a blessing and a privilege to be able to receive a special visit from an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. As my wife Koral and I met with him and the other General Authorities to arrange the details of the agenda and discuss the needs of Puerto Rico; the sincere love that the Lord feels for all his children could be felt. Conducting a meeting with an Apostle may be very nerve-racking, but Elder Soares from the beginning made me feel confident and emanated a peace that confirmed that everything was going to be fine."

He added, "Every time I looked at him my mind would go to the New Testament and think, Elder Soares has the same calling, keys, power and authority of those apostles who walked and lived with our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ. As I thought this, my heart was filled with the Spirit and testified to me how blessed we are by the Restoration of the gospel. We have prophets, seers, and revelators again on earth just as we did in the times of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Elder Soares and Elder Cook, along with their wives and other Caribbean Area leaders, also participated in a special meeting with all full-time missionaries serving on the island.

Before leaving the country, they held meetings with various leaders of the Government and the Catholic Church in San Juan, including Pastor Luis Roig Casillas, advisor to the governor and in charge of the Office of Bases of Faith of the Government of Puerto Rico, with whom he met in the Fortaleza building, where they held a cordial meeting to discuss opportunities to provide more support to those affected by recent natural phenomena, that have impacted the island.

"My job in this office is to serve and link those entities that share that same purpose. We know the work that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done in our country and we are open and interested in continuing this fruitful relationship that has been cultivated for years," said Pastor Roig.

In return, Church leaders expressed "interest in expanding cooperation to help those in need, not only individually, but also in conjunction with other faith-based and nongovernmental organizations doing extraordinary work on the island," said Herminio Gomez, national communication director, who accompanied Elder Soares and Elder Cook along with members of the area presidency, Elders Eduardo Gavarret, Jorge Alvarado, and Moises Villanueva.

They also held a productive and fraternal meeting with the vicar general of the Archdiocese of San Juan, the Reverend Father Tomás González, with whom they discussed common aspects that unite the Church of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.  These included their interest in life, family, marriage, youth and charitable service to the most vulnerable. This was the first time that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve held a meeting with Catholic leaders at that level in Puerto Rico.


Elder Soares was greeted in a historic embrace on the afternoon of November 11 by Luis Tito Quintana, president of the Havana Cuba District, and Julio C. Acosta, president of the Santo Domingo East Mission, to which Cuba belongs, marking only the third time a member of the Quorum of the Twelve has visited Cuba. He was preceded by Elder David A. Bednar, who dedicated Cuban soil for the preaching of the gospel in February 2012, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who visited the island in June 2014.

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles participates for the first time in a district conference in Cuba© 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Elder Soares' agenda included encounters with government leaders, including Caridad Diego, head of the Office of Religious Affairs and deputy to the National Assembly of People's Power, with whom he discussed the progress of the Church in Cuba, which already has about 400 members organized in three branches and a group that make up the Havana Cuba District.

"This has been a very positive meeting and we have been received in a very cordial and friendly way, as good friends and collaborators. We are very grateful for the cooperation and support provided to the Church by the staff of the Office of Attention to Religious Affairs. The Church is moving forward steadily, and we are very optimistic about the future, especially after this and other conversations we have had today," Elder Soares said as he left the meeting.

For their part, the Cuban authorities highlighted the "respectful spirit and adherence to the norms that characterize the Church and its operations in the country," where despite not having a formal registration, like other religious organizations, it enjoys, "official attention and political recognition by the Cuban state," with whom it coordinates its activities.

The apostle, who arrived in the country accompanied by Elder Eduardo Gavarret, president of the Caribbean Area, and his wife Norma Gavarret, visited several humanitarian partners of the Church, who serve as allies in their relief efforts to assist those most in need in the island, especially in the face of repeated emergency situations in recent years due to hurricanes that are impacting the island.  One of the most recent areas of impact is the municipality of Pinar del Rio, where the Church has sent aid through Catholic charities "Caritas Cubana" and other local, non-governmental organizations.

As part of these visits, Elder Soares and his companions met with Cardinal Juan de la Caridad García Rodriguez, archbishop of San Cristobal de La Habana, who was accompanied by Monsignor Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Rev. Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui, assistant secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba; and Migdalia Dopico Paz, director of Caritas in Havana. It is the second time that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve has met with the Cuban archbishopric.

In addition, Elder Soares and his wife hosted an interfaith-friendly dinner attended by religious leaders from various Christian denominations, including Monsignor Eloy Ricardo Domínguez Martínez, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Havana; Pastor Joel Ortega Dopico, president of the Cuban Council of Churches, and other leaders representing the Catholic Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Assemblies of God and other religious entities operating in the country. The purpose of this activity was to strengthen ties of friendship and cooperation, as well as a greater collaboration between the Christian churches operating in Cuba.

"This has been a fruitful meeting between brothers, in which we have been able to enjoy a fraternal spirit of cordiality and affection among those who profess a faith in Christ and who we hope will be the first of many in the future," said the Rev. Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui, assistant secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

Growth of the Church in Cuba

Since its first meetings with a small group of two or three families in Havana, the Church has continued its growth on the island through the preaching of the gospel by faithful members of the Church, who share what they have learned with their families, friends, and neighbors. Today, the Church has about 400 members organized into three branches (Havana, El Cotorro and La Portada) and a group in Holguin, on the east of the island.

To train and strengthen Church leaders and members in this process of growth, Elder Soares and area leaders held a special district conference over the weekend, with a session for district leaders and a general session for all members on Sunday, November 13th, which was attended by about 220 people. The conference was held at the premises of the San Juan María Vianney Residence, located in Vedado, offered by the Archdiocese of Havana.

Audience prepares to hear Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles address during District Conference in Cuba© 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

During the meeting with the leaders, visibly moved and with tears in his eyes, Elder Soares, who is a convert to the Church, expressed how eager he had been to visit the Saints in Cuba and finally his dream had been realized. "I couldn't help but remember my first Church meetings in Brazil with four or five families in small rented premises on the second level of a bakery. That's where I learned the first gospel lessons. A very simple place where people like you, maybe 4 or 5 families, gathered, but it was for me a time of formation to gain my testimony of Jesus Christ and see the Church grow. I could never have imagined that it would become a strong church of 1.5 million members."

Likewise, he highlighted the character of "pioneers" displayed by these first members of the Church in Cuba and how the work would rest on the basis of the service they render to the Lord these years.

"My dear brothers and sisters, be of good cheer, in spite of the difficulties you have to face, for the Lord has said, “Be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God; that I was, that I am, and that I am to come" (D&C 68:6).

Baptismal service during the visit of Elder Ulisses Soares to the island of Cuba© 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Prior to Sunday's general session, a baptismal service was held on the beach, at which four converts from the municipalities of Havana, Cienfuegos and Bayamo joined the Church, including Sister Rachel de los Angeles, who learned about the Church through social media and received her lessons remotely from a couple of missionary sisters. Finally, Sister Rachel traveled more than 10 hours to be baptized that morning.

"We are more alike than different, we are all children of God, we come from the same divine root, so there is no difference between us, we are brothers and sisters. Know that government leaders know who we are, respect us and appreciate what we do... they know that we are interested in the welfare of God's people and therefore the Church must prosper," Elder Soares told the conference, some traveling up to 12 hours by bus from Holguin in the eastern part of the island to hear the Lord's Apostle.

An Apostolic Blessing

Addressing all district members, Elder Soares offered a message of hope to those who live in a beautiful country but are experiencing great difficulties, especially economically, due to the socio-political situation in the nation. He emphasized the role difficulties play in one's spiritual growth and invited members to be a light and example through which others can know Jesus Christ, especially through a firm faith in the Lord and a commitment to keep His commandments.

"Why do you have to suffer so much to learn? Imagine that everything was going well and that everything was resolved in life... would we turn to God? Difficulties are important, they have a function in our lives. When we go through difficulties we have the need to turn our hearts to the Lord and ask for His help. In the moments of greatest difficulty, they were those when we felt the most peace and felt closest to our Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, we have had those difficult moments when we feel God's hands helping us with our difficulties. It is necessary to have difficulties to refine ourselves and become better people, it is part of God's plan. In difficulties we can feel his embrace, if we humble ourselves, he comforts us and gives us peace, but we must humble ourselves, pray and seek his help," he taught.

He also stressed the importance of repenting, following the words of prophets, and "setting the helm of our lives toward the Lord and His gospel," stressing the need for each member to orient their lives based on the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ, both through the scriptures and the words of the prophets.

"If we set the helm in the right direction, we will start our journey in the direction we need to go. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that allows us to set the helm in the right direction, through faith to live the principles of the gospel. Everything we do must lead us to Jesus Christ and if we set our rudder towards him, we can reach the presence of God," he added.

Finally, as part of his message, Elder Soares pronounced an apostolic blessing on the Church in Cuba, saying:

"I invoke upon you a special blessing of love and protection, that you may know more and more the life of the Savior Jesus Christ, that your hearts may be opened and thus know more about His sacrifice, recognize His hands in your lives, and press forward with the strength to serve as true disciples with joy in your hearts,  May they feel His love upon you and may that love give you the strength you need. May you be close to Him at all times, both suffering and joyful, always giving glory to Heavenly Father for the love He has for all of us. May He bless you to persevere and help you to have hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, where you can find the necessary peace. I am returning home, but I will be watching over you, I will be praying for you and for your well-being. I will tell our dear prophet about you. I love you, continue to stand firm, the Lord is going to open the heavens and bless you," he concluded.

This historic visit to Puerto Rico and Cuba, two of the islands of the Spanish Caribbean, marks a milestone in the advancement of the Church in the region, where some 220,850 members of the Church live and whose lands were dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel, mostly in the seventies.

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