New Mormon leaders expected to be named at conference

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — As many as three new high-ranking leaders are expected to be chosen Saturday during the Mormon conference in Salt Lake City — announcements that have Latter-day Saints eagerly anticipating the rare occurrence.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints needs the new leaders to fill vacancies on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It is a governing body that sets church policy and runs the faith's business operations.

It's been six years since a new quorum member was chosen, and more than a decade since the leadership council had two openings. The last time there were three openings was in 1906.

Quorum members serve until they die, and three recent deaths created the rare void.

"It will add a little edge to the whole conference," said Greg Diamond, a retired federal prosecutor from Las Vegas.

Laura Annen, a school teacher from the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, said she was very excited to find out who the new leaders will be and confident God will choose the right men to be special witnesses of Christ for the religion.

Diamond and Annen are among about 100,000 people who will attend one of five sessions held over two days at a twice-a-year conference where Mormons gather to hear guidance, inspiration and about church news from the religion's leaders. Millions more watch live broadcasts.

Scholars predict that for the first time ever, at least one of the new leaders could be from outside North America and Europe. That has added intrigue to already high levels of interest among Mormons.

Diamond said that would be a great step, acknowleding the expanding global reach of a church that has more than half of its reported 15 million members outside the U.S. Annen said she too would love to see it happen.

"That would be awesome to name somebody from outside the U.S," Annen said. "It is nice to have that international aspect for sure."

The one member of the current board from outside the United States is Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was born in Czechoslovakia and raised in Germany. A total of 14 members of the quorum have been born outside the U.S. since the church was founded in 1830, according to church officials.

Two people who seem to be likely candidates from Latin America are Ulisses Soares and Cláudio R. M. Costa, both from Brazil, said Matthew Bowman, associate professor of history at Henderson State University. From Africa, two names to watch are Edward Dube of Zimbabwe and Joseph W. Sitati of Kenya, he said.

All four serve on a second-tier group of church leaders called the Quorum of the Seventy, which has been a farm system in recent decades for future leaders.

President Thomas S. Monson, considered the religion's prophet, chooses quorum members through divine inspiration, according to church beliefs.

Modeled after Jesus Christ's apostles, the group serves under the church president and his two counselors. New members start as junior members, but they could someday become church president because the group's longest-tenured member ascends to president when the current one dies.

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