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Posted: 4:28 PM- LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson invited "the less active, the offended, the critical, the transgressor" Sunday to come back and "feast at the table of the Lord and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the Saints."
In his first address to the entire 13-million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the newly sustained 16th "prophet, seer and revelator," Monson echoed sentiments of welcome and inclusion that were hallmarks of his recent predecessors
He spoke during the Sunday morning session of the church's 178th Annual General Conference, held in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and beamed via satellite to Mormon chapels across the globe.
Monson encouraged Mormons to show kindness and respect "for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours."
The new president said he was overwhelmed by church members' symbolic gestures of support offered Saturday. "As your hands were raised toward heaven, my heart was touched. I felt your love and support, as well as your commitment to the Lord," he said.
Monson has enjoyed meeting with Mormons in many nations, he said, and he plans to continue traveling, as the late President Gordon B. Hinckley did.
"I pledge my life, my strength - all that I have to offer - in serving the Lord and in directing the affairs of his church in accordance with his will and by his inspiration," Monson said.
Other speakers on Sunday discussed prayer, finding spiritual light, forgiveness and resurrection, the courage to uphold LDS standards and the role of the apostles. Many reiterated their support for and allegiance to Monson.
"I cannot help but feel that the most important privilege [of this historic conference] has been to witness the settling of the sacred prophetic mantle upon [Monson's] shoulders, almost by the very hands of angels," said Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, in an emotional and unscripted comment.
In his speech, Holland took on the church's Christian critics who condemn Mormonism for using extra scriptures beyond the Bible, including the Book of Mormon.
"The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors," Holland said. "Continuing revelation does not demean nor discredit existing revelation."
Apostle M. Russell Ballard focused on the "essential" and "eternal" role of mothers.
"There is no one perfect way to be a good mother," Ballard said, acknowledging that every situation is different. Some are full-time homemakers, and many others would like to be. Some women work full or part-time. Some work at home; some divide their lives into periods of home and family and work.
What matters, Ballard said, is that "a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else."
Quoting New York Times writer Anna Quindlen, Ballard urged young mothers to live in the moment more, enjoying each stage of their children's development. He discouraged over-scheduling children's activities, while encouraging mothers to take time for themselves. He urged husbands to offer to help their wives with the children, even providing a "day away" for her from time to time.
Between the Sunday sessions, the three women named Saturday as new leaders in the church's Young Women's Organization described their approach and priorities regarding the 554,600 Mormon girls between 12 and 18 years old in 170 countries.
When asked how they planned to cope with the fact that as many as 80 percent of the single Mormon women between 18 and 30 are no longer active in the LDS Church, Elaine Dalton, Young Women president, said, "That is the question of the day. . .I don't know that we have all the answers right now."
Dalton said she and her two counselors plan to "reach out and strengthen those young women. . .to help them understand who they are and the divine mission they have on earth."
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Monson's German-born second counselor in the governing First Presidency, represented the international members, many of whom are the only Mormons in their families.
"I claim the legacies of modern-day church pioneers who live in every nation and whose own stories of perseverance, faith, and sacrifice add glorious new verses to the great chorus of the latter-day anthem of the kingdom of God," said Uchtdorf. "We honor and respect sincere souls from all religions, no matter where or when they lived, who loved God, even without having the fullness of the gospel." - Tribune staffer Jessica Ravitz contributed to this report.