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Carole Mikita and AP reporting President Thomas S. Monson stepped forward as a new world religious leader to talk with all Latter-day Saints this morning. "I would encourage members of the church, wherever they may be, to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere," he said. Delivering his first worldwide address as leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pres. Monson reached out to all people.
Pres. Monson opened his remarks by noting the passing of his predecessor, Gordon B. Hinckley, calling the late president "an outstanding ambassador of truth to the entire world and beloved by all." Pres. Hinckley died Jan. 27 at age 97 after nearly 13 years leading the church.
Mormons follow a pattern of apostolic succession to select a new president, with job passing to the next most-senior church leader upon the death of the previous leader. Pres. Monson has been a senior church leader since 1963 and was one of Hinckley's closest advisers.
Pres. Monson said Sunday that he was addressing the faith "from the depths of humility," possessing a deep understanding of the responsibilities of his office and an appreciation for the work of the 15 men previously in the job.
"My earnest prayer is that I might continue to be a worthy instrument in (God's) hands to carry on this great work," he said.
He told members of the faith, "As your hands were raised toward heaven, my heart was touched. I felt your love and support." President Monson told them that weeks before, on Sunday, February 4, in an upper room of the Salt Lake Temple, the Apostles had met. "We met in a spirit of fasting and prayer. During that solemn and sacred gathering, the presidency of the church was reorganized."
In Church service for more than 44 years, President Monson said he traveled, spending as much as five weeks away from home at a time. He expressed gratitude for his children and especially his wife. "I thank my father in heaven for my sweet companion, Frances. This October she and I will celebrate 60 wonderful years of marriage."
An invitation was extended to those less active in the faith or those who have been offended. "Come back, we reach out to you in the pure love of Christ and express our desire to assist you," Pres. Monson said.
He also said that as the moral fabric of society unravels around them, church members should strive to be steadfast in their values. "We are waging a war with sin," Pres. Monson said. "But we need not despair. It's is a war we can and will win."
Pres. Monson invoked the Lord's blessings for church members in their homes, their work, and in their service. "Together we shall move forward doing his work. I pledge my life, my strength, all that I have to offer in serving him."
President Monson told Church members he has been attending General Conference meetings for a long time but about today he said he does not remember being more richly blessed. Likewise, Latter-day Saints, who came here from around the world, told us they were deeply moved.
Mariela de Santa Cruz, from Lima, Peru, said through a translator that "she could feel the spirit of the Lord here. And she's really overwhelmed for the spirit."
Sua Carl Schuster, from American Samoa, said, "It was great to come and witness the sustaining of President Monson for the Church."
Nancy Miller, from Vallejo, CA, said, "I've always loved Brother Monson, but today I just felt the spirit so strong. I just can't even talk about it."
Robert Miller said, "The spirit was just so strong, and it was just kind of overwhelming. And I'm just so happy to be here and be near the prophet."
On Saturday faithful members raised their hands in symbolic support of the 80-year-old Monson's appointment as the church's 16th president.
Founded in 1830, the American-born faith is among the world's fastest growing denominations and claims more than 13 million members.
Church members gather in April and October for two-days of meetings to hear church leaders share personal stories of faith, quote scriptures and offer guidelines for living. The event draws more than 100,000 to the church's downtown Salt Lake City headquarters with members packing a 21,000-seat conference center during each of five sessions.
Millions more join the proceedings live over television, radio, satellite, and Internet broadcasts which are translated into more than 80 languages.
President Monson called the meetings a "feast" of faith, love and counsel. He urged Latter-day Saints to incorporate the teachings into their lives.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story. Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)