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SALT LAKE CITY -- In recent years, it has not been unusual to hear reports on Latter-day Saints and Catholics working together in our community or somewhere in the world to help those in need.
But it wasn't always that way.
The two faiths ask their members to give full commitment to their beliefs. In decades past, that seemed to come between them, forming a religious mistrust. The relationship between the two faiths, however, has gradually grown through the personalities of certain leaders. It grew substantially when they came together to help people during a catastrophic event in Africa.
We cannot pretend there are not differences, but we can recognize that what is in common is much stronger than what is different.
–Archbishop George Niederauer
St. Peter's Basilica symbolizes more than the headquarters of a worldwide church, just as the Salt Lake Temple signifies more than an international landmark.
Two faiths and two different doctrines led to a religious divide. Yet they discovered the power in partnership, beginning with people in need.
Twenty-five years ago, a devastating famine struck Ethiopia, killing a million people and leaving millions more on the brink of starvation. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for a church-wide fast and collected $6 million. Elder Russell M. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Glenn Pace traveled to make a donation.
"We met in the feeding stations up in Makali, Ethiopia, with Frank Carlon, who was the head of Catholic Relief Services and that was the beginning of a very dear relationship," Elder Ballard said. "The decision was made that a good portion of that money would be managed by Catholic Relief Services and ever since then we've been building that relationship stronger and stronger."
Through the years, leaders and members of both faiths in the Utah community and many others have helped people receive food, clothing, shelter and jobs.
At the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the relationship continues as one of mutual respect and even friendship.
St. Mary's Cathedral is the landmark for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and now home to Archbishop George Niederauer, formerly bishop of the Salt Lake Diocese. On the issue of protecting traditional marriage, he invited Catholics and Latter-day Saints to join a coalition supporting Proposition 8.
It's really a privilege to be good friends and we need to stand together on that and we've been doing that for many years with the Catholic Church. That's what the Lord Jesus Christ would want us to do.
–Elder Russell M. Ballard
It turned into a political hot button but solidified the partnership.
"Marriage is our doctrinal foundation and it's between a man and a woman," said Elder Ballard. "We've stood together on that and we'll continue to do so."
Archbishop Niederauer agrees. "I understand the keen feelings. I don't share them but I understand the feelings of people who would be our opponents," he said. "It's complicated by our cultural history and by our faith and our sense of what marriage is and is not."
These friendships include recognition of each other's houses of worship. Latter-day Saints contributed to the renovation of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in the early 1990s. President Thomas S. Monson, Archbishop Niederauer and Cardinal William Levada, second in important in the Vatican, spoke last year at the Cathedral's centennial mass.
"We were treated wonderfully well," said Elder Ballard. "Bishop Weigand came and gave us a hug. Bishop Niederauer and of course, John Wester, who now is a very dear, close friend."
Elder Ballard traveled in September to Rome and the Vatican, visiting with Cardinal Levada.
"Elder Ballard called and talked about what are some things we should see. What are some things it would be good for us to do?" said Archbishop Niederauer. "Those are relationships but they're close and I think we became trusted and trusting friends."
Elder Ballard says visiting the headquarters of the Catholic Church was a poignant experience. "It was a great experience, really, to meet a lot of people in the Vatican," he said, "significant leaders of the Catholic Church there, as we had a chance to build those relationships right at the Vatican itself."
Weeks later, President Monson traveled to Rome to break ground for a new temple. Leaders of the Italian government and Catholic Church were guests.
"We cannot pretend there are not differences, but we can recognize that what is in common is much stronger than what is different," said Archbishop Niederauer.
Elder Ballard said, "You know, it's really a privilege to be good friends and we need to stand together on that and we've been doing that for many years with the Catholic Church. That's what the Lord Jesus Christ would want us to do."
Elder Ballard and Archbishop Niederauer each expressed very strong feelings about freedom of religion. They believe it is a very important issue of our day.