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Catholic Community Services of Utah (CCS) recognized President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at its annual Humanitarian Awards Dinner at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Friday, November 4, 2016. Also honored at the event for their humanitarian efforts were victim advocate Elizabeth Smart and Catholic Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe.

From left to right are Bradford R. Drake, CCS executive director; Pres. Nelson; Monsignor Colin F. Bircumshaw, CCS interim chairman and Peter Corroon, CCS board of trustees president.

“I am deeply honored to accept this award,” said President Nelson. “It is especially meaningful to me because it comes from valued friends who are themselves such stalwart examples of dedication to people in need.”

Speaking at the awards dinner, he said, “As many of you may know, I spent my entire professional career endeavoring to save lives — physical lives — as a heart surgeon. I feel right at home among you, as you are also saving lives — saving lives from deprivation, despondency and despair.”

“We feel honored at CCS to be able to honor the LDS Church for the many, many good things that they do for CCS,” said Bradford Drake, executive director of CCS. “It’s just an honor for two faiths to work so closely together.”

Catholic Community Services of Utah provides meals and other assistance to the hungry, homeless and refugees. More than 1,000 meals are served and an average of 450 people are helped in downtown Salt Lake City every day. CCS distributes more than 3 million pounds of food in northern Utah every year and provides services to more than 600 refugees by assisting hundreds of immigrants with their applications and refugee children who come to the United States without their parents.

President Nelson visits with community leader Pamela Atkinson.

“Speaking of refugees, our hearts have been touched — indeed, nearly broken — as we have recently observed the unimaginable hardships that millions have had to endure,” said President Nelson during the dinner. “They have embarked on long and hazardous journeys across treacherous waters or vast deserts to often inhospitable circumstances. They have left behind their professions, possessions and many of their loved ones.”

It has been one year since the Church’s First Presidency issued a letter encouraging members to aid refugees around the world.

“The response to this invitation has been remarkable,” reported President Nelson. “Thousands of hosts have sought ways they can best be of help. Many of these good intentions could only be realized because of the groundwork already laid by our friends at Catholic Community Services the International Rescue Committee and other refugee resettlement organizations here and across the country.”

Archbishop Wester was the ninth bishop of Salt Lake City from 2007 to 2015. He developed strong friendships with Mormon leaders while in Utah. Archbishop Wester served as chairman of the CCS Board of Directors. Under his stewardship, the CCS Immigration and Refugee Resettlement doubled in size. He was instrumental in taking over the evening meal serve at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall. He also continues to advocate for immigrant and refugee rights on a national level.

Smart, a Latter-day Saint, was abducted from her home in 2002 at the age of 14, surviving her nine-month ordeal. Drake said she can relate to those who have suffered and provide hope to those who have faced tragedy.

Entertainment at the annual Catholic Community Services of Utah (CCS) awards dinner was provided by Burundi drummers.

President Nelson added, “I also express appreciation to be recognized with Archbishop John C. Wester and Sister Elizabeth Smart Gilmour, who have likewise dedicated — and continue to dedicate — their lives to the benefit of our brothers and sisters in distress. We all share a common commitment to the call of the Lord Himself. He ministered to the lame, the blind, the widows, the orphans, the fatherless and the oppressed.”

CCS holds an annual fundraising awards dinner to raise awareness of its programs. Over the years, honorees have included the late Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Barbara; the Church’s Presiding Bishopric;  President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Harriet; and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.