Russell Nelson meets with New Zealand’s prime minister, praises the former Latter-day Saint as a peacemaker

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives a Book of Mormon to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday, May 20, 2019.

LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson met Monday with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a former Latter-day Saint who won widespread praise for her committed and compassionate response to mass shootings in March at two mosques in her country.

“The world will discover a real leader here,” Nelson said in a news release. “It’s an unlikely scenario; a young mother leading a great nation, a peacemaker, a policymaker, consensus giver. We’re very impressed with her. She’ll have a great future.”

The 94-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also announced that the Utah-based faith would be making contributions to help the Christchurch mosques repair damages from the terrorist attacks.

“We’re clearly sensitive to what happened there,” general authority Seventy O. Vincent Haleck said in the release, “and our hearts were broken when we heard about the tragedy that took place and the loss of life and so the church is reaching out ... to lend a hand, to be there for our brothers and sisters.”

Haleck, who oversees the Pacific area for the church, met with Ardern last year in Wellington to present her with two volumes of her family history.

“It was touching to see our prime minister reading through some of the pages of the history,” he said at the time. “I understand she is an avid reader, so I am sure she has many hours of fascinating reading ahead.”

In his audience Monday with Ardern, Nelson said the two discussed New Zealand’s diverse population and “how people can have different points of view and yet learn to live in love with one another.”

He gave the 38-year-old premier — seen as a rising star on the world stage — a leather-bound copy of the Book of Mormon, the faith’s foundational scripture, with her name embossed on the cover.

“We felt like family really with her,” Nelson said.

Apostle Gerrit W. Gong, who also attended the meeting, called the Latter-day Saint prophet a “natural diplomat.”

“One of the topics that came up was the importance to use social media in a proper way,” said Gong, the faith’s first Asian American apostle. “There needs to be a balance between religious freedom, the ability to speak out, but also to use it in a way that’s responsible.”

The Christchurch gunman had used Facebook to livestream the mosque shooting, and Ardern had expressed frustration that the footage still could be found online several days after the killings.

Nelson is now halfway through his nine-day, seven-nation Pacific tour. He had previous stops in Hawaii, Samoa and Australia. He also will visit Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti.

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