New virus prompts Latter-day Saints to cancel key leadership event

FILE- In this Jan. 3, 2018, file photo, the angel Moroni statue, silhouetted against the sky, sits atop the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Temple Square, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday that it has postponed a key April meeting of its top global leaders because of the spread of the coronavirus, and said it is discouraging its many members who live outside the U.S. from coming to Utah for much larger church event that same week.

The leadership meeting brings together several tiers of leaders in the faith who gather behind closed doors to discuss church policies, sometimes leading to major public announcements about decisions made in the sessions. It was scheduled for April 1-2 in Salt Lake City, but has been postponed to Oct. 1-2, the faith said in a statement.

The larger church event planned for that weekend of April 4-5 is still on, but not for church members living outside the U.S. because the faith does not want its international members to travel to it for fear of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

More than half of the faith’s 16 million members live outside the United States and the larger gathering is attended by nearly 100,000 people who converge on Utah to listen to speeches by the faith’s leaders that are broadcast live around the world.

The decision to postpone the meetings and discourage international travel came after warnings from governments and health organizations, the faith known widely as the Mormon church said in the statement.

“We wish to be good global citizens and do what we can to limit the spread of this disease,” the faith said. “We also want to relieve concerns of our leaders, members, and their families related to the uncertainties of travel at this time.”

The moves mark the latest steps taken by the faith as it responds to the coronavirus outbreak. The church has temporarily closed temples in Tapei, Taiwan, and in Seoul, Korea and church officials have said they are are closely monitoring how to best to keep their 65,000 missionaries safe.

Earlier this month, the faith transferred 113 missionaries from its Hong Kong mission to other places and opted against sending new people to missions in parts of Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand.

Missionaries already in those three countries have been told to mostly stay inside, stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from people when they go outside and to do their proselytizing by phone or online. Missionaries in South Korea are being told to isolate themselves as well.

The faith’s young men must serve as missionaries for two years while young women serve for 18 months. The missions are considered rites of passages.

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