Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 16,602,000; Members, 554,749; Stakes, 74; Wards, 419;Branches, 192; Missions, 9; Districts, 24; Temples, 1; Percent LDS, 3.3 or one in 30; Chile Area.
Located on the west coast of South America, the Republic of Chile has a Spanish-speaking population that is 72 percent Roman Catholic and 12 percent Protestant.
The earliest LDS visitors to Chilean national territory were the passengers of the ship Brooklyn, en route from New York City to California, who landed on Juan Fernandez Island in May 1846 to replenish supplies, after failing to land at Valparaiso because of a storm. Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve, in company with his wife Phebe and Rufus C. Allen, spent five months at Valparaiso and Quillota investigating conditions, 1851-1852, but Elder Pratt decided against establishing a permanent mission in Chile. Instead, he recommended to Brigham Young that the Book of Mormon be translated into Spanish for future use in Latin America.
Seventy years later, assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson visited Antofagasta, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and Santiago, March-April 1923, and reported to Church leaders that South America was “a field ready for the harvest.”
Although there was no known organized Church activity in Chile, missionaries stationed in Argentina made occasional brief visits from the mid-1920s until the early 1950s (including an attempt to establish missionary work in the southern logging village of Futaleaf) and U.S. Latter-day Saints worked for mining companies in northern Chile.
Former Argentine missionary Billie F. Fotheringham and his family were sent to Santiago in 1952 by his employer. At the urging of Fotheringham, Church President David O. McKay, Sister McKay, and their son Robert visited Santiago in February 1954 to assess the prospects for sending missionaries to Chile.
The First Presidency authorized the Argentine Mission to send missionaries to Chile in May 1955, but it was not until June 1956 that Verle M. Allred and Joseph C. Bentley arrived in Santiago to begin missionary work there. Henry D. Moyle of the Quorum of the Twelve joined them in July 1956 and established the Santiago Branch (soon renamed the noa Branch), with Fotheringham as the first branch president. In organizing the branch Elder Moyle stated, “These people will accept the Gospel rapidly and . . . soon there will be a mission here with at least 10 branches.” On 25 November 1956, Ricardo S. Garcia, Isidro and Graciela Saldana, and others were the first group baptized in Chile.
During the next three years, missionaries from Argentina established additional branches in the nation’s largest population centers — Santiago, Concepcion, and Valparaiso-Vina del Mar — the Church was legally incorporated in Chile, and the first Church property was purchased in Santiago. In May 1958, Opal M. Atwood and Hope C. Kohler were the first sister missionaries assigned to Chile. In February 1959, Spencer W. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Chile and stressed the need for developing local leadership. Also in 1959, Ricardo S. Garcia became the first Chilean Latter-day Saint to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and Ruth I. Peters, Maria Cristina Donoso, and Guillermo N nez were the first Chileans called to full-time missionary service. In May 1960, Carlos A. Cifuentes was the first Chilean called as a branch president; both his counselors and the branch clerk were also Chileans. In February 1963, Cifuentes was also the first local member called as a district president and in March 1965 became the first Chilean called to be counselor to a mission president.
In October 1959, Chile, along with Peru, became part of the new Andes Mission with headquarters in Lima. Two years later, on 8 October 1961, the Chilean Mission was organized, with 12 branches and 1,136 members.
During the next decade, branches were established in the balance of Chile’s largest cities and towns, Church schools were established in Santiago and elsewhere, meetinghouse construction began, initially through the building missionary program, local Latter-day Saints gained leadership experience and the northernmost part of the country, including branches in Arica and Iquiqu), which had remained during most of the 1960s in the Andes Mission and its successors, was incorporated into the Chilean Mission.
In the early 1970s, the Church in Chile weathered the political and economic turmoil associated with the presidency of Marxist Salvador Allende and the September 1973 military coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. Many Chileans, among them some Latter-day Saints, migrated to countries such as Argentina, Venezuela, Australia, Canada and the United States.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Church in Chile was transformed from being mission-oriented to a stake-oriented organization — the first stake was organized in Santiago in November 1972 by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, with the national Church membership standing at 20,000 at the end of that year, the seminary and institute programs were established (1972) and the Church schools were closed (1981), an LDS distribution center was established, the meetinghouse construction program accelerated, additional missions were created for a total of five by the end of 1979. Many young Chilean Latter-day Saints served full-time missions and prepared for future Church leadership. President Spencer W. Kimball and other General Authorities conducted an area conference in Santiago, February-March 1977, the Chile Missionary Training Center was established in 1981, and the Santiago Chile Temple was dedicated in 1983.
In the final years of the Pinochet era, before democratic rule returned to the nation, nearly 400 bombings and acts of vandalism and arson were committed against LDS meetinghouses, which were viewed by political extremists as symbols of U.S. influence in Chile.
In 1980, the Chile Area was organized and an area temporal affairs office was established in Santiago. In 1984, Chile became part of the South America South Area with headquarters in Buenos Aires. Twelve years later, with Church membership growing rapidly, the Chile Area was re-established in August 1996 with a full Area presidency.
By the end of the 1980s there were 51 stakes in Chile, nearly 400 meetinghouses had been built by the Church, and Chile’s LDS membership was approaching 300,000. After a three-year hiatus during which no new stakes were created, an increase in the number of convert baptisms, which surpassed 36,000 in 1996, prompted Church leaders to divide many stakes and wards into smaller units to stimulate leadership development and membership activity, with 65 more stakes being created between August 1992 and November 1998, bringing the total in Chile to 116.
In August 1999, President Boyd K. Packer and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Chile to assess conditions in the Church. In an effort to strengthen Church units, between April 2000 and August 2003 hundreds of wards and branches were discontinued and 41 stakes were merged with other stakes or returned to district status.
In August 2002, the First Presidency assigned two members of the Quorum of the Twelve to serve as presidents of international areas, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland being appointed president of the Chile Area. During the next two years, Elder Holland and his counselors worked to strengthen Church members and train local leaders to serve more effectively as shepherds for a rapidly-growing Latter-day Saint membership.
In 2003, membership reached 530,739. In 2004, membership was 534,754.
President Gordon B. Hinckley rededicated the Santiago Chile Temple March 12, 2006, an edifice he dedicated 22 years earlier. This was his first public appearance after cancer surgery weeks before. At 95 years old and after major surgery, his vigor amazed many. The temple had been closed 14 months to be refurbished and renovated.
Sources: “Chile,” Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2004; Rodolfo A. Acevedo, Los Mormones en Chile: 30 anos de la Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias, 1956-1986, 1991; Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, 1874; Andrew Jenson, Autobiography of Andrew Jenson, Assistant Historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1938; Argentine Mission manuscript history and historical reports, 1935-1960, Church Archives; A. Delbert Palmer, “Establishing the L.D.S. Church in Chile,” 1979; Dale Zabriskie, “First Converts Baptized at Santiago,” Church News, 16 February 1957; Michael R. Morris, “Chile’s Fruitful Vineyard.” Ensign, December 1995; Andes Mission manuscript history and historical reports, 1959-1963, Church Archives; Chilean Mission manuscript history and historical reports, 1961-1975, Church Archives; Dell Van Orden, “Love, respect and emotion end area conference series,” Church News, 12 March 1977; John L. Hart, “Temple dedicated in an oasis of calm,” Church News, 25 September 1983; Michael Phillips, “Amid Bombs, LDS Church Reshaping Its Image in Chile,” Salt Lake Tribune, 20 April 1992; “New Chile Area Announced” Church News, 15 June 1996; “President Packer, Elder Oaks greeted by Chilean leaders” Church News, 11 September 1999; Carrie A. Moore, “2 apostles assigned to live outside U.S.,” Deseret News, 10 April 2002; Jason Swensen, “Prophet rededicates Chile temple,” Church News, 18 March 2006.