SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Mormon church will build five temples in cities worldwide, including the restoration of an historic church building in Utah that was destroyed in a fire last year, the faith's president said Saturday.
"No church-built facility is more important than a temple," said Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Temples are places where relationships are sealed together to last through the eternities."
The church, with its 14.1 million members, has 135 operating temples worldwide and has another 31 planned or under construction. The new temples will be in Barranquilla, Colombia; Durban, South Africa; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; and Star Valley, Wyo.
The church will also restore the fire-ravaged Provo Tabernacle and convert it into a temple, Monson said during the opening session of the faith's semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City. Temples are considered sacred to Latter-day Saints and are used for religious rituals including proxy baptisms, marriage ceremonies and other rites, often referred to as "ordinances," which are designed to strengthen church teachings.
The towering white buildings differ from the church meeting houses used for regular Sunday services. Temples are closed on Sundays and open only to church members considered worthy - a designation achieved through tithe paying and a faithful adherence to the standards of conduct expected by the church.
Built between 1883 and 1898, the Provo Tabernacle had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975 until it burned last December. A three-month investigation found the fire began in the attic and was caused largely by human error.
A lamp on a wood speaker was left on after a dress rehearsal for a choir concert, and then a security guard turned off a fire alarm instead of calling authorities. Investigators also found that smoke detectors weren't properly placed around the building.
When completed, the facility will be the second temple in Provo. It would relieve strain on Provo's hillside LDS Temple, which Monson described as the church's busiest worldwide.
Tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints have gathered in Salt Lake City for the fall installment of the church's twice-yearly general conference, with millions more participating through satellite, radio or Internet broadcasts. They congregate in April and October to hear words of inspiration and guidance from senior church leaders.
The two-day event for the Utah-based church is in its 181st year.
On Saturday, speakers encouraged members to study and memorize the scriptures, including passages from the faith's central text, the Book of Mormon.
"Great power can come from memorizing the scriptures," church Elder Richard G. Scott said. "To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It's like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change."
Members were also counseled about the importance of traditional marriage and family, and church youth were encouraged to use their computer skills to become involved with genealogy, the foundation of many temple rituals.
Elder L. Tom Perry also noted that despite being more visible than ever - Mormons Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. are both seeking the Republican presidential nomination, while other Latter-day Saints hold prominent positions in government, entertainment and business - the Mormon church remained misunderstood by many.
Perry, a member of church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles, called on members to seize opportunities to correct misperceptions and distortions of Mormon beliefs. Doing so respectfully and honestly will help others better understand the church, he said.
"Their suspicions will evaporate, negative stereotypes will disappear and they will begin to understand the church as it really is," Perry said.