Mormonism is growing in Latin America where new members are attracted by such factors as the church's affluence and stability, as well as its family image and the belief that Jesus Christ visited the Americas after he was resurrected.
The following are facts about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon church is formally called:
- The once-isolated group, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the fastest-growing and most affluent religions. More than half of its 13.5 million members live outside the United States.
- The Mormon flock is flourishing in Latin America, especially in Mexico and Brazil, with some 5.2 million members and 5,500 chapels.
- The Mormon church has distinctly American origins. It was founded in 1830 in upstate New York by Joseph Smith, who said he received the word of God from an angel named Moroni, who guided him to tablets that told the story of the Book of Mormon about an ancient civilization of Israelites sent by God to America. A year later, he was persecuted and forced to flee to the Midwest, where he was killed. His followers then undertook a mass 1,100-mile (1,800-km) migration in 1846-47 to Utah.
- Mormons have three books of scripture other than the Bible. One is the Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe was translated from golden plates discovered by Smith. Adherents decline to use alcohol, coffee and tobacco.
- The Mormon church originally allowed polygamy. The custom was officially banned in 1890 when Washington, angered by its spread, threatened to deny statehood to Utah. Today, Mormon leaders distance themselves from about 40,000 breakaway Mormons in Utah and nearby states who illegally continue the practice.
- Today, about 50,000 missionaries - often young men in business suits walking the world's streets in pairs - project a wholesome, family-oriented image that has helped swell global Mormon adherents by 36 percent from 1995 to 2005.
(Compiled by Jason Szep and Fiona Ortiz)