Celebration of Mormon church: 200th anniversary of founder's birth

The president of the Mormon church traveled to the Vermont hillside where the church's founder, Josephy Smith, was believed to have been born, in preparation for a celebration Friday to mark the 200th anniversary of Smith's birth. Looking up at the monument built in Smith's honor, church President Gordon B. Hinckley had just one observation: "Beautiful."

"This is the ground. This is the place. This is where it happened, this was the starting place," said Hinckley, 95, who visited the site with one of his sons, six of his grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Hinckley is scheduled to speak to Mormons by satellite Friday, part of a celebration that will originate from church's Salt Lake City conference center and be broadcast into church meeting houses around the world.

The celebration caps a year of Smith-focused events that included musical pageants and scholarly conferences. Hinckley called on church members to complete a full reading of the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. Smith founded the church April 6, 1830, in Palmyra, New York. He claimed God had appeared to him in a vision 10 years earlier, instructing him to restore the ancient church to the Earth. He later said an angel, Moroni, also appeared to him and led him to a set of buried gold plates, which Smith translated into the Book of Mormon, the faith's foundational text.

Today the church says it has 12 million members in 160 countries. About 55,000 people have visited the monument on his birth site this year, far more than in previous years, said Grant Williams, of Kaysville, Utah. Williams and his wife, Sally, are serving a 24-month church mission as the monument hosts.

Records from Smith family diaries place his birth on Dec. 23, 1805, on the country hillside, near the New Hampshire border. A hearthstone and a moss-covered front step are all that remain of the original home where the Smith family ran a small farm. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built and dedicated the monument to Smith in 1905, reports the AP. N.U.

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