SALT LAKE CITY -- Mormons should dedicate their lives to serving others and avoid becoming caught up in the details of daily life that could detract from their role as the "Lord's hand" on earth, the church's president said Sunday.
"We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort and our kindness, be they family members, friends, acquaintances or strangers," Thomas S. Monson said on the second day of the faith's semiannual general conference.
Service is a familiar theme for the 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is known for his pastoral approach and concern for the infirmed and widowed.
"We are the Lord's hand here upon earth with the mandate to serve and lift his children," he said.
Last year before his August birthday, Monson said his ideal gift would be an increase in acts of service by church members worldwide. This year, he was inundated with cards from members of all ages reporting how they had complied with his birthday wish - from yard work and visiting the elderly or sick, to hauling water and cleaning out a toy closet.
"My heart has been seldom as touched and grateful," said Monson, adding that he and his wife spent hours pouring through the letters.
Mormons gather in April and October to hear words of inspiration and direction from top church leaders. The two-day event draws more than 100,000 members to the church's downtown Salt Lake City international headquarters.
Messages about the importance of service and exemplifying the Christian values of love and forgiveness were repeated throughout the weekend.
"Try to show kindness in all that you do. Be gentle and loving in deed and thought," President Henry B. Eyring, one of two counselors to Monson in the church's First Presidency, said Sunday. "The joys come from putting the welfare of others above our own. That is what love is. And the sorrow comes primarily from selfishness, which is the absence of love."
Other familiar themes included encouraging daily prayer and scripture reading, living temperately, the need for personal accountability and holding onto moral principals despite peer pressure or shifts in societal norms.
On Saturday, the 13 million-member church announced plans to build five new temples - two in the U.S. and three abroad. The temples will be built in Brigham City, Utah; Concepcion, Chile; Fortaleza, Brazil; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Sapporo, Japan.
Latter-day Saints consider temples their most sacred buildings. The towering, white buildings - most topped with a trumpet-blowing golden angel - used for religious rituals including proxy baptisms and marriage ceremonies.
Temples are only open to church members who are tithing 10 percent of their incomes and have met other standards of worthiness as determined in interviews with their local church leaders.
The church already has 130 operating temples worldwide and another 16 are either planned or under construction.