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SALT LAKE CITY – The Lao-American Buddhist Monks Council held its annual general conference at the Utah Capitol for the first time in history on Thursday.
Monks in the council came from across the nation to gather in the Capitol building with members of the Buddhist community in Utah to celebrate the construction of the new Wat Lao Buddharam Buddhist temple located in West Valley City. This temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the state.
Senate President J. Stuart Adams spoke during the opening event and welcomed the monks to Utah. "I look forward to being with you. I celebrate your new temple and look forward to actually visiting the temple," he said.
The monks' council had a luncheon Wednesday with leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Afterward they met in the Senate Chamber to read an official citation honoring the Lao-American community in Utah and the Lao-American Buddhists' commitment to religious freedom and peace.
The citation was signed by Adams and Sen. Luz Escamailla, whose district includes the location of the temple. Adams said it was an honor to sign the citation.
The conference will continue through Friday with meetings on religious freedom, increasing youth participation in the religion, and supporting interfaith discussions and interactions in the community. The purpose of the conference is to spread the teachings of Buddha and grow religion in the community.
Sen. Jacob Anderegg spoke during the ceremony of the conference in Lao, as he learned the language during his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We welcome you to the state and celebrate our diversity of religion. May you have a home and have friends here," Anderegg said.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, Rep. Timothy Hawkes and Rep. Clare Collard also gave short remarks at the opening ceremony where they thanked the council for coming and welcomed them.
"We sure value you and we value your faith and we value religious freedom. So thank you so much for coming and spending time with us today," Hawkes said.
Iwamoto said she and the Utah Legislature have been working hard to make sure the diversity of Asian Americans is celebrated and to help all Asian Americans feel seen by their legislators. She expressed gratitude for the opportunity to meet the council and said she is proud it chose to meet this year in Utah at the Capitol.
Leaders of the council recognized members of the Lao-American Buddhist community in Utah for their contributions to the temple. These members are sponsors and contractors who are helping build the temple. They were brought up to the front and given a certificate of recognition.
The temple had a groundbreaking ceremony a few years ago and construction of the temple is based on donations and volunteer work. It is expected to be completed in a little over a year.
Sophana Chanthamixay and her husband are involved in the building of the temple. Many members of the Buddhist community have been offering their specialized skills, such as her husband who worked on the framing of the temple. Other members have contributed with tile work, flooring, electrical work and more.
"We have been involved with it coming up all the way and to see it almost complete, we are really excited," Chanthamixay said.
On Sunday the Lao-American Buddhists in Utah will conduct a religious ceremony when they dedicate the apex of the temple. Chanthamixay called the apex the water dragon, which is a type of decoration placed on temples as a protection and guard for the temple.
The opening ceremony concluded with performances from the Wat Lao Salt Lake Dance Group, made up of girls from the Buddhist community in Utah. The group performed a blessing dance and other traditional Lao dances.