Panel: The Social Role of Religions and Faith Communities

Reyna I. Aburto is the Second Counselor in the General Presidency of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I would like to start by expressing my deep gratitude to all who have organized and participated in this inspiring event, and, particularly, to those who participated in this panel with me:

To Mr. Luis Panessi, from ADRA, the Argentinian Adventist Agency for Development and Support Resources, sponsored by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, whose objective is to “serve humanity in order to help everyone live according to God’s will,” as it is driven by justice, compassion, and love [1].

To Reverend Luis Mussiett, who is the National Evangelic Chaplain of Gendarmerie in Chile and who does remarkable work in “supporting, watching over and rehabilitating people who […] have been detained or whose freedom has been taken away” [2].

To Mrs. Cristina Tobias‐Nabi from IRUSA, Islamic Relief USA, who serves children, orphans, and women by providing, among other things, clean water, education, health services, emergency response, food, and microfinances [3].

I represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints, whose humanitarian arm, Latter‐day Saint Charities, has as a purpose to “relieve suffering, foster self‐reliance, and provide opportunities for service” [4].

In particular, I represent Relief Society, the global organization formed by more than six million women from our Church and whose magnificent commission to “save souls opens the whole field of human activity and development, [such as] relief of poverty, relief of illness; relief of doubt, relief of ignorance—relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman” [5].

As I was reading the impressive work that each of the panelists performs, I have realized that we have much in common and that we are a sample of the good that religious organizations can do for humanity, nations, families, and individuals. In essence, our organizations have the same objective: to join our faith, our love, and our strengths to draw upon the resources with which we have been blessed to elevate other people and to help them reach their highest potential, so they can become sources of strength and goodness for others in their own spheres.

As I speak about the social role that religious faith communities play, I would like to focus on two points: the charity work that religious organizations do and the impact that those entities have in the hearts of people.

First, charity work, from which our enormous private sector of charitable works originated, and which is still sponsored most significantly by religious organizations [6]. As I mentioned, the distinguished members of this panel belong to organizations that give significant, fundamental, and selfless service to millions of people around the world.

In the case of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints, through our Latter‐day Charities organization, founded in 1985, we have sponsored “relief and development projects in 195 countries and territories and given assistance without regard to race, religious affiliation, or nationality. Aid is based on the core principles of personal responsibility, community support, self‐reliance, and sustainability” [7]. So far, that assistance equates to more than two billion US dollars [8].

We follow Jesus Christ’s admonition to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick, the imprisoned, and the afflicted [9].

We have participated in projects that provide food, clean water, emergency response, immunization, maternal and neonatal care, refugee assistance, vision care, wheelchairs, and community projects, in a sustainable way, both at the international and local levels.

And our efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic have included more than 1,000 projects in more than 150 countries and territories, and 294 refugee assistance projects in 50 countries. This response has been the largest humanitarian effort of the Church so far [10].

To give some recent examples: In several communities in Paraguay in collaboration with health professionals and the Social Archdiocesan Pastoral from Asuncion, among others, we donated personal protection supplies for health staff as well as medical equipment, and we facilitated the creation of COVID‐19 vaccination centers [11].

In Argentina, in a joint effort with Caritas Argentina, which supports community kitchens in several places in Buenos Aires, we donated food that will be served in seven community kitchens in the federal capital [12].

In Chile, in collaboration with the mayor of Purén village, we provided basic supply baskets to 80 families from the Goño Tuy Tani Mapu community, as part of a humanitarian aid project that will benefit about 500 families in the south of Chile [13].

All of this is possible thanks to our close collaboration with governments and with religious and charitable organizations. We constantly set aside our differences about religious doctrines and practices and unite our forces to serve the needy.

This humanitarian work is also possible because of our faithful members who selflessly donate money and time to help their neighbors. Our projects are mainly done through millions of voluntary work hours given by hundreds of thousands of people, who can get to work immediately when needed.

This brings me to my second point: the impact that religious organizations have in the hearts of people.

Dallin H. Oaks, who is the First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints, said, “Religion strengthens the social fabric of society,” and then he quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who taught that “[Religion] remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. … Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history” [14].

President Oaks added,

Western societies are not held together primarily by the overall enforcement of laws, which would be impractical, but most importantly by citizens who voluntarily obey the unenforceable because of their internal norms of correct behavior. For many, it is a religious belief in right and wrong and anticipated accountability to a higher power that produces such voluntary self‐regulation [15].

As pointed out by President Russell M. Nelson, who is the President of our Church,

Latter‐day Saints … are always looking for ways to help, to lift, and to love others. … [and] “are willing to bear one another’s burdens, … to mourn with those that mourn; … and [to] comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

They truly seek to live the first and second great commandments. When we love God with all our hearts, He turns our hearts to the well‐being of others in a beautiful, virtuous cycle. …

To assist members of the Lord’s Church in distress, we love and live the ancient law of the fast. We go hungry to help others who are hungry. One day each month, we go without food and donate the cost of that food (and more) to help those in need. …

Giving help to others—making a conscientious effort to care about others as much or more than we care about ourselves—is our joy. Especially, I might add, when it is not convenient and when it takes us out of our comfort zone [16].

If you allow me to share some of my personal experiences, I have been the recipient of help provided by religious organizations throughout my life. I was born and raised in Nicaragua, and when I was nine years old, a devastating earthquake destroyed our home, leaving our family in a difficult situation. During several months, we received help from different organizations, most of them religious, which allowed us to have a new beginning with some stability. Sometime later, political unrest brought instability and uncertainty to us, and again, we received help from different religious sources. Years later, I migrated to the United States and went to several religious organizations to receive legal, medical, and other types of assistance. I know firsthand the feeling of gratitude, hope, and love that one feels when receiving help from a selfless source.

On the other hand, for me the fact that I belong to a religious organization like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints allows me to join my faith with other people in common causes. It is hard to put into words the feelings I have knowing that in some measure I am providing some help to people less fortunate than me and giving back some of the assistance that I have received.

To belong to a community in which we try to help each other spiritually and temporally gives us a sense of identity and purpose that allows us to forget about ourselves to focus on the needs of others and the common good.

As declared by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints, with whom I have the privilege to participate in this forum,

Religious freedom is the cornerstone of peace in a world with many competing philosophies. It gives us all space to determine for ourselves what we think and believe—to follow the truth that God speaks to our hearts. It allows diverse beliefs to coexist, protects the vulnerable, and helps us negotiate our conflicts. Thus, as the European Court of Human Rights has wisely concluded in multiple cases, religious freedom is vital to people of faith and “is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, skeptics and the unconcerned.”  This is because “the pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it” [17].

To conclude, I would like to extend an invitation to all of us who are participating in this important forum: “Be not weary in well‐doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” [18].

[1] Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Argentina,

[2] Transformaciones y Alternativas Religiosas en América Latina (Luis Bahamondes González ed. 2013).

[3] What We Do, Islamic Relief USA,

[4] Who We Are, Latter‐day Saint Charities,

[5] John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations 308 (Bookcraft 1987).

[6] See Dallin H. Oaks, Transcript: Elder Dallin H. Oakes at University of Oxford, Newsroom: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (9 June 2016),

[7] Who We Are, Latter‐day Saint Charities,

[8] See Russell M. Nelson, The Second Great Commandment, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (October 2019),

[9] See Matthew 25:35–45.

[10] See Who We Are, Latter‐day Saint Charities,

[11] See Histórica Ayuda Humanitaria está llevando a cabo la Iglesia de Jesucristo en Paraguay para ayudar a la comunidad a sobrellevar el Covid-19, La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días (16 augusto 2021),

[12] See “Codo a Codo” la Iglesia y Cáritas llevan alimento a comedores, La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días (19 mayo 2020),

[13] See Cerca de 500 families de la comuna de Purén, al sur de Chile, reciben ayuda en alimentos, La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días (23 noviembre 2020),–al-sur-de-chile–reciben-ayuda-en-alimentos.

[14] Dallin H. Oaks, Transcript: Elder Dallin H. Oakes at University of Oxford, Newsroom: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (9 June 2016),

[15] Ibid.

[16] Russell M. Nelson, The Second Great Commandment, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (October 2019),

[17] D. Todd Christofferson, Religious Freedom: Cornerstone of Peace, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (29 April 2015), (quoting and citing European Court of Human Rights cases).

[18] Doctrine and Covenants 64:33 (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 2013).