SAO PAULO, Brazil — At a time when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States faces heightened interest from American media and public forums about its history, beliefs and practices, the Brazilian Senate has just held a special session to honor the 80-year presence of the Church in Brazil.

Senator Edison Lobão, the sponsor of the initiative, called the opportunity to recognize the Church “an honor” and “a joy.” He said the Church has served “to foster the highest character of the Brazilian people.”

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers in Brazil make bed sheets for a hospital in their community. © 2007 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Church membership in Brazil now exceeds one million, making Brazil the country with the third-highest number of Mormons — after the United States and Mexico.

“The tenacity and the dedication they include in their religion is aimed at families and is carried out by them every week in their homes, in their temples and in other places of worship,” Lobão said.

Senator Álvaro Dias acknowledged the humanitarian efforts of the Church. “The meritorious social work carried out by this body, under a voluntary work program known as ‘Helping Hands,’ includes a September 2007 project where 284 public schools throughout the country were refurbished by more than 60,000 volunteers,” he said.

“In May, additional volunteers in 190 Brazilian cities made clothing items for 290 public hospitals. The Mormon Church in Brazil carries out social responsibility in its true fullness.”

Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, a Brazilian and also a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said, “Some groups of people, not everybody, they didn’t believe that we were Christians. And now they recognize that we are Christians and that we are very good Christians.”

Mormons in Brazil garnered national attention for their humanitarian efforts and community projects in 2001 when Marco Maciel, then vice president of Brazil, thanked the Church for its service. By 2002, the Mormon Helping Hands program — an official humanitarian program of the Church — was named one of the most important volunteer organizations in Brazil.

Since the inception of the Mormon Helping Hands program in Brazil in 2000, more than 1.5 million hours of service have been rendered.

The first known Mormon in Brazil was a man who immigrated to the country in 1913, but it was not until 1927 that a Church official in Buenos Aires, Argentina, traveled to Brazil. By 1928, the first Mormon missionaries were sent to Brazil. In just 80 years, Church membership in Brazil has surpassed one million members.