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SALT LAKE CITY -- Even as the world changes around them, the traditional family must remain the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members, Mormon leaders said during speeches at the semi- annual general conference on Saturday.
Throughout the first of five two-hour sessions at the 21,000 seat conference center in Salt Lake City, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson and other leaders reminded listeners of the church's opposition to abortion, emphasis on a household with a mother and a father and the encouragement to have large families.
More than 100,000 people are expected to visit the church's Salt Lake City headquarters during the two-day conference, which began Saturday. Millions more participate through satellite, radio or Internet broadcast translated into more than 90 languages.
Mormons meet in April and October to hear words of inspiration and guidance for daily living from the faith's senior leaders. The American-born church has a presence in more than 170 countries and claims more than 14.5 million members worldwide.
"Through the wonders of television, radio, cable, satellite transmission, and the Internet, even on mobile devices, we come together as one," Monson said.
The goal of the conference is to help members strengthen their faith and "continue to oppose evil wherever it is found," Monson said.
"This great cause in which we are engaged will continue to go forth, changing and blessing lives as it does so," Monson said. "No cause, no force in the entire world can stop the work of God."
Total membership: 14,441,346 New children of record: 119,917 Converts baptized: 281,312 Missionaries
Full-time missionaries: 55,410 Church-service missionaries: 22,299 Temples
Temples dedicated: 2 Temples rededicated: 1 Temples in operation: 136
Elder Boyd K. Packer, the second-highest ranking church leader, told members to remain abstinent before marriage and focus on raising children after marriage. But he also said that failure to adhere to these principles can be absolved through forgiveness.
"No pain will last forever. It is not easy, but life was never meant to be either easy or fair," Packer said. "Repentance and the lasting hope that forgiveness brings will always be worth the effort."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, too, spoke about forgiveness.
"Whether you are not yet of our faith or were with us once and have not remained, there is nothing you have done that can't be undone," Holland said.
Monson's wife, Sister Frances Monson, accompanied the prophet to Saturday's conference sessions. She was unable to do so for the October sessions last year.
Also at conference was the recently ordained Elder David Archuleta, who sang with the Missionary Training Center choir at the conference. He entered the MTC earlier this year to serve a two-year mission in Chile.
In the evening Priesthood session for the men of the faith, Monson told them to be willing and worthy to serve.
"How blessed we are to be in these last days," Monson said. "The priesthood is not so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless of lives of others."