New Mormon Leader Calls Back Members

By: By JENNIFER DOBNER
By: By JENNIFER DOBNER

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Mormons who have strayed from their faith were invited to return to the fold Sunday by the church's new president.

"Come back," President Thomas S. Monson said in his first address since taking over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February.

Members are ready to welcome "the less active, the offended, the critical, the transgressor" into fellowship, he said.

Monson opened his remarks by noting the passing of his predecessor, Gordon B. Hinckley, calling the late president "an outstanding ambassador of truth to the entire world and beloved by all." Hinckley died Jan. 27 at age 97 after nearly 13 years leading the church.

Mormons follow a pattern of apostolic succession to select a new president, with the job passing to next most-senior church leader upon the death of the previous leader. Monson has been a senior church leader since 1963 and was one of Hinckley's closest advisers.

Mormons consider their president a "prophet, seer, and revelator," who can receive direct revelations from God that guide the church.

Monson said Sunday he possesses a deep understanding of the responsibilities of his office and an appreciation for the work of the 15 men previously in the job.

"My earnest prayer is that I might continue to be a worthy instrument in (God's) hands to carry on this great work," he said.

Borrowing a familiar Hinckley theme, Monson asked Latter-day Saints to show kindness and respect to those who hold different religious beliefs and to strengthen their families by making the home a loving sanctuary.

He also said that as the moral fabric of society unravels around them, church members should strive to be steadfast in their values.

"We are waging a war with sin," Monson said. "But we need not despair. It is a war we can and will win."

Monson's love for people of the church was obvious by the look in his eyes as he spoke, said Pierce Thiot, a 21-year-old student at the church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo.

"It's a conference I'll never forget," he said.

On Saturday faithful members raised their hands in symbolic support of the 80-year-old Monson's appointment as the church's 16th president.

Founded in 1830, the American-born faith is among the world's fastest growing denominations and claims more than 13 million members.

Church members gather in April and October for two days of meetings to hear church leaders share personal stories of faith, quote scriptures and offer guidelines for living. The event draws more than 100,000 to the church's downtown Salt Lake City headquarters with members packing a 21,000-seat conference center during each of five sessions.

Millions more view the proceedings live over satellite and Internet broadcasts that are translated into more than 80 languages.

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On the Net: http://www.lds.org

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