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“The temple in France is a wonderful building,” said Pierre Lazeras, first counselor in the Paris France Temple, “but in France we have lots of wonderful buildings.”
That’s true. Gracing the streets of Paris are some of the most notable buildings of the world—the Opéra Garnier, location for the Phantom of the Opera; the Palais du Louvre, home of one the world’s foremost collections of art; Notre-Dame, the jewel of religious Gothic architecture; and the glittering palace of Versailles, which is only a ten-minute walk from the temple.
So as the open house ended last week, and exactly 47,561 people had come through the Paris France Temple, what did they think? The building, itself, of course, is absolutely exquisite and the craftsmanship unparalleled. The art glass windows with their flowers that remind one of a Monet painting are exceptional. Tom Holdman, their creator, has surely become the most accomplished art glass artist in the world.
Still, the French are used to being dazzled by a building. There is something they are much less used to—a place that is dedicated to God, a temple that is truly His house. This is foreign. In France, many believe in God, but they dare not speak of it. Their yearnings find no home. They have been carefully trained in the culture to be closed to religion. It is a forbidden topic. Instead, they put these yearnings toward other causes and still wonder what they are missing.
God reminds us, “For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations…who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12).
With the temple open house, people got a glimpse and they responded. The songs their souls have been yearning to sing, they will be able to sing.
The neighbors in Le Chesnay are so pleased with the temple. Not only did they come once, but they came again and brought more friends, and sometimes came a third time. They liked what they felt there. If ever any of them had stood against the building of the temple, that feeling has long ago evaporated.
Temple president Gerard Giraud-Carrier said, “Some people came to the open house feeling critical toward the Church, and after their visit they were completely changed. We noticed that many of them suddenly had questions about the doctrine, much more than the building.
“If they did ask why this building is so beautiful, we answered that it is because we love God and what we do here helps us to be with Him again. We told them that the reason is that we believe in eternal life and that coming to earth is to have experience and to grow and to prepare to go back into the presence of God. This is something completely new for them.
“We have had a lot of discussions about priesthood and authority. We explain that we have the authority to seal families together for eternity. People ask, ‘Where did that authority come from? Do you have a problem recruiting priests?’ We explain that the priesthood is given to young men at age 12 and they are impressed. We tell them it is our way of building the young people to become disciples of the Lord.
“The people who have come to the open house come away with a changed vision about the Church and how we manage to keep people and how we raise our children,” President Giraud-Carrier said.
He said that two of the women who are neighbors of the temple have told him they have a perfect view of the Christus statue from their window. They said, “Thank you so much. It is the most beautiful thing we see out our window.”
This is the impact a temple has on a nation where it is built, and it is especially important in France. Of the thousands who came through the temple, the Church received 20 to 40 referrals a day, which is unheard of in this country. A missionary could knock on a thousand doors and not find this kind of response. More importantly, the temple has brought the Church out of obscurity in France. Now people know what the Church is. They’ve read about in the media. They’ve talked about it over lunch.
The kind of gospel discussions that happened a thousand times a day during the open house would be impossible in any other time or setting in France.
A Building Filled with the Spirit
As we know, there is more to a temple than any other building, however renown or elegant, can match. It is the Spirit. Those who came to the open house and aren’t members don’t use that terminology readily and aren’t familiar with it. Instead they said that they felt a profound feeling of peace in the building or they felt serenity and happiness there.
Sister Pauline Todd, who is a construction missionary and has been on the site from the beginning said, “I was surprised how soon the Spirit of the Lord came. It has been on the site the whole time. For a long time others have also said ‘there’s a different spirit here.’ Only three members of the Church have been involved in the construction, but many of them said they felt something here as they were constructing the building.
Sister Annie Giraud-Carrier, who is the temple matron said that she asked the architect who was in charge of following the work, how he felt when the temple was finished. He answered, “I feel so sad to leave this place. It has been a work of love.” Then he pointed to a wall and said, “You see this wall? Before it was plastered and sheet rocked, I had the concrete brushed because I wanted it to be as clean inside as outside.” He understood what was happening, even though he is not a member of the Church. He felt it.
Eric von Hauvermat, who lives near the border of Switzerland, organized the ushers for the open house. “At first a lot of people in this area were curious about the building, but after they visited, they became curious about the doctrine. Their point of view changes. Those who have come with a bad spirit toward the Church leave differently.
“Often I explain in five minutes a 2,000 year-old story. Christ came to the earth. He organized a church, and after all the apostles died it was lost. People answer, ‘Ah, that makes sense.”
“They ask me what’s the difference between a church and a temple. They ask if we have a meetinghouse in Versailles and when I say yes, they say, ‘I will go.’”
“We told the ushers that our role is not for the people to remember us, but instead to remember the Spirit inside the temple.”
President Lazeras said, “What people are very surprised by is the kindness and the smile of those who are working here.”
One member said, “There is no need to dedicate this temple. I can feel the Spirit already.”
Elder Matthieu Bennasar, Area Authority Seventy, noted, “I have seen how visiting the temple has impacted people who claim to be non-religious. One of my high school friends, with whom I am very close, is a very clever man, a PhD. He didn’t say much about the temple, but I could see it impacted him. It will help to open up conversation on religious topics.
“Building a temple in France is such a shock wave against the power of the Adversary,” he said.
Natacha Bennasar said, “We keep hearing stories from ushers and guides. One Swiss pastor said that in his community they were studying the Book of Mormon every month.
“A woman came out of the celestial room and said, ‘I can’t breathe anymore. I feel something so strong.”
Natacha said, “I’ve seen something happening in people’s heart almost each time we take them through, especially when we talk about eternal families and eternal marriage. This is a completely new notion for them. When my husband began talking about the scripture where the Savior says to Peter, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”, this man just began to rub his face with emotion.
“I feel it a great privilege to witness people’s reactions when they discover what is possible. We’ve had people say, ‘How could I get that marriage with my wife?’”
Members Bringing their Family
For Elizabeth Yezil, who lives in Saint Jenis near the border of Switzerland, having the temple come to France, “means everything. It means that my country will be blessed. It means I can have the hope of an eternal family.
“I have been going to the temple all my life, but I have been going by myself, and for the first time, yesterday at the open house, it was wonderful to be there with my husband and my children. This way I can feel what it will be like when it is possible for us to be together there some day. It is once in a lifetime for me.
“Now each time I go to the temple, they will know where I am going.”
She said, “My husband was very touched. It was a very special moment for me when we were in the sealing room and we were holding hands and I asked him to think about the blessing we could have it we could kneel together and be sealed. The perspective of eternity we could see in the mirrors was very strong.
“I have done the temple work for his mother and his grandmother,” she said, “and it was a special place to talk about what it meant.”
Alexandra Beckley grew up in Lyon and was baptized when she was 24. The missionaries taught her for 7 months and “one morning I knew I couldn’t live without the feeling I had when I came to church every week.”
She said, “It is difficult to speak about the gospel in France. People just don’t understand why we spend so much time in a church. To be a missionary, we just need to live the gospel the best we can and just be happy. One friend told me, ‘You are just so happy, that we want to join.
“I am happy to be here in France because it is so difficult to be a believer here. Maybe if we were in another place where it is easy, I wouldn’t work so hard.”
Alexandra has been praying and fasting so much for her family and was pleased to bring them to the temple open house. Her brother, sister, mother and grandmother came. “They were peaceful, calm and quiet,” she said. “I know they were touched. I think they know the Church is true, but they just need to make the big step.”
It Felt Like a Dream
Elder Matthieu and Natacha Bennasar felt so strongly about having a temple near their family they chose to move to Paris. For Natacha to have a temple near by them “felt like a dream, like Christmas, but every day.”
She said, “This temple will be a great source of strength to us. The youth live in such a hard world. They go to school and face so many challenges. If they go there and perform baptisms, it will be a great source of strength for them. They will know that if they want to go on Saturday morning, they will have to live worthy lives, like the young men of Helaman.
“Our country has been through some very hard events. We have felt shaken. For weeks, I felt really sad, like living a happy life isn’t possible anymore. Knowing that I have this special place where I can go when I want to feel that peace is something priceless to me.”
“Now we have a spiritual power that will be poured out in our country,” Elder Bennasar added.