Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Rosana, returned to Portugal this week for the first time since they led the Portugal Porto Mission two decades ago. Their four-day visit was an opportunity to reminisce, minister to the country’s 45,000 Latter-day Saints and deepen their mutual connection to this land of their ancestors.
“I always dreamed of the day to return here and feel the same feeling I had when I was a mission president,” said Elder Soares, a native of Brazil. “But today it’s much more. It’s something that I cannot describe to see the unity that has been established here among the members, among the Church and among the leaders of the Church.”
“I feel at home,” added Sister Soares. “It is wonderful to be back because I have Portuguese blood in my veins.”
Elder and Sister Soares embarked on their mission in the summer of 2000. Their three children were 13, 9 and 5. They said the family experienced miracles. Their children found friends, love and family.
“It was so wonderful because our kids got along so well,” Sister Soares said. “They loved being here, and they loved the people, the children, the school, the Church children. It was wonderful.”
And Elder Soares discovered more of his Portuguese lineage.
One day, after speaking about his ancestry at a district conference in Coimbra (the city where one of his grandfathers was born), a genealogy enthusiast asked President Soares for his grandfather’s name. Few months later, the man presented the future Apostle with hundreds of names of his ancestors who lived between the 1600s and 1800s. The names came from records unavailable in Brazil.
This unexpected gift, Elder Soares said, was followed up by Portuguese Saints taking those names to the house of the Lord in Madrid, Spain. There, on behalf of those hundreds of people, dedicated Church members went through the sacred ceremonies that the Church of Jesus Christ believes will unite families forever.
This, the Apostle said, shows the big heart of the Portuguese people.
“They are open to help and support each other,” he said. “This man came to me without any request but trying to share his love with me through his work on family history. … That was one of the great miracles that we experienced here in this country.”
Elder Soares said his grandparents brought their Portuguese traditions with them when they immigrated to Brazil. One of those traditions was gathering frequently with family on any occasions.
“It was beautiful to see how my grandparents kept their culture of embracing each other and supporting each other even out of their own country,” Elder Soares said. “They made their little country there in Brazil. And that’s how I grew up. That’s how I was raised by my parents that brought that piece of culture of my grandparents to me.”
Elder Soares’ parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ in 1965, when he was 6. Without his grandparents’ move to Brazil, Elder Soares may not have encountered the Church until at least 1975, when the Church was established in Portugal.
Elder Soares credits his maternal grandparents, Christians of another faith, for cultivating his mother’s own believing heart that prepared her to become a Latter-day Saint.
“And now I am here, back in this beautiful country where my grandfather was born, sharing my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ with this marvelous people,” he said.
On this meaningful ministry visit, the Soareses, accompanied by other Church leaders, touched the hearts of many Latter-day Saints and friends of the faith in special meetings with young single adults and missionaries.
“We connected with our family roots here; our grandparents on both sides, on my side and on my wife’s side, were Portuguese,” Elder Soares explained to the group of young people. In a spirit of a worldwide culture unity, Elder Soares said smiling: “You can now say that one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ is Portuguese because I received my Portuguese citizenship three years ago. So, now I’m a real Portuguese.”
In a concluding meeting that was broadcast to congregations across the country and to the island nation of Cabo Verde, Elder Soares taught, “With all of our preoccupations, with all the challenges, with all the attacks by the adversary, how is it possible that we can survive all this, overcome our challenges and be happy? Brothers and sisters, the Savior’s invitation to us is to turn our hearts to Him. That is the way to find happiness in this life. ”
Elder and Sister Soares said they were moved by the warm welcome home they received and gratified by the strength and faith they witnessed among their Portuguese brothers and sisters.
“[We] always pray that the gospel will go everywhere on this earth,” Sister Soares said. “I always pray that it really reaches all parts of Portugal so that all people have the same privilege that we have to hear and feel the beauty of the gospel. We have a temple in Portugal, and this is one of the greatest blessings we can have.”