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For Mormons, Death of a Prophet

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[Outside the Hinckley alumni building at BYU, Monday morning. Photo by J.A.]

The college kids at BYU got a flurry of text messages Sunday night, delivering the sad news: "Our Prophet has passed."

President Gordon B. Hinckley, the chief executive and spiritual leader of the Mormons -- I think I've summarized that correctly, but there's probably a more precise description -- had died at the age of 97. It's the equivalent of the Pope dying, one LDS member told me. Students at BYU told me they loved Hinckley -- he was the only church leader many of them had ever known. Many of them dressed in church clothes when they went to class Monday.

Hinckley had effectively run the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since the early 1980s, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. His predecessors in the church presidency had been incapacitated by age-related infirmities, and Hinckley, comparatively sprightly in his early 70s back then, became the moving force in the church. For the past 13 years he served as president and oversaw a doubling of the number of Mormon temples worldwide.

The Trib's Monday morning edition featured a 10-page wraparound supplement dominated by a huge photo of Hinckley. The lead story on the website of the church-owned Deseret News had more than a thousand reader comments by early Monday morning. Much of the local TV and radio went all-Hinckley all-the-time (though I did pick up one irreverent shtick on a Salt Lake City station where a wiseacre was saying, "First Heath Ledger, now this").

The Trib described the succession protocol for the church, which some folks have criticized as a gerontocracy. The Trib wrote of Hinckley, "He was determined to defy the view of LDS presidents as feeble, secretive and quaintly parochial."

The Deseret News recalls the time Mike Wallace asked Hinckley why the church was run by old men.

"Isn't it wonderful?" Hinckley responded.

Thomas S. Monson, president of the Quorum of 12, is expected to be selected as the new church leader. The Deseret News writes that the broad-shouldered Monson "seems relatively young." He's 80.

Hinckley's funeral is Saturday.

Here's the church's official site.

[In secular news, note how close the polls are between Romney and McCain in Florida. Couldn't slip a credit card between the two. Not even one of Romney's credit cards.]

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By Joel Achenbach  |  January 29, 2008; 9:27 AM ET
 
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