In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints post-WWII, the statement that a socialist and anarchist was largely responsible for initiating missionary work in the country that is home to the second-largest community of Latter-day Saints is unexpected. Yet, that is exactly what happened in Mexico thanks to Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty and his associates.
Our Father knows and loves His children all over the world, from Boston to Okinawa, from San Antonio to Spain, from Italy to Costa Rica. In Ghana, President Gordon B. Hinckley recently thanked the Lord “for the brotherhood that exists among us, that neither color of skin nor land of birth can separate us as Thy sons and daughters.” …
We come to this world in many colors, shapes, sizes, and circumstances. We don’t have to be rich, tall, thin, brilliant, or beautiful to be saved in the kingdom of God—only pure. We need to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. And we can all choose to do that regardless of where we live or what we look like.
~Clate W. Mask Jr.
This is part 5 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.
During the initial expedition of Latter-day Saint missionaries into northern Mexico in 1875-1876, they brought with them fifteen hundreds of copies of the Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormón (selections from the Book of Mormon) that Melitón Trejo had translated, packing them in by mule and horseback, and sent out five hundred copies to prominent men in central Mexico via mail from Chihuahua City. One of these fell into the hands of Plotino Rhodakanaty, an immigrant with Greek and Austrian heritage who advocated for socialism in Mexico. Rhodakanaty had arrived in Mexico from Europe in 1861 and began publishing works like La Cartilla Socialista and founded La Escuela del Rayo y del Socialismo in Chalco to propagate the ideas of contemporary European thinkers and socialists. He is considered the intellectual father of Mexico’s agrarian and syndicalist movements as well as ideas on freedom and liberty that were direct intellectual precursors of the Mexican revolution of 1910-1917. When he read Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormón, he was particularly impressed with the portrayal of a Zion-like society in 4 Nephi. At that point, he taught at the Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City and had gathered a group of like-minded individuals around him, with whom he shared what he had found. Soon, he began writing to John Taylor (who was leading the Church at the time), demanding that missionaries be sent to Mexico City.
The letters that Rhodakanaty sent outline what his expectations and desires were for association with the Church. Prior to even hearing about the Book of Mormon, however, Rhodakanaty had outlined his ideas for a socialist Christianity: “It has been eighteen centuries since humanity was moved to listen to the eloquent and sublime voice of twelve inspired fishermen who preached the doctrine of Jesus Christ. This doctrine was that of socialism.” He had heard of the communitarian “United Order of Enoch” projects that Latter-day Saints in the American west had been attempting and in his December 15, 1878 letter to President John Taylor, he expressed his belief that the Church would lead to a “humanitarian transformation not just of a religious order, but also in moral, social, and political” spheres. In requesting missionaries to come, he stated that his group was “vehemently desirous to perform our mission as providential instruments of divine will for the salvation of so many poor souls as there are today in this country.” He added that he desired missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to preach in Mexico “in order to accomplish radical reformation and the salvation not just of our country, but the world.”
As Bill Smith and Jared Tamez have pointed out, Rhodakanaty and Taylor likely misunderstood each other in their correspondence. The terms Rhodakanaty used (i.e., transformation, salvation of poor souls, reformation and salvation) were used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to represent the spiritual salvation of converts and changes in how people lived their lives as a result. Hence, John Taylor likely understood it simply as a request for missionaries to come preach and baptize. Yet, keeping in mind Rhodakanaty’s background as an ardent socialist reformer, it seems likely that he had economic and social salvation as part of the package deal, along with the spiritual salvation. As Smith and Tamez wrote:
In the original Spanish … ‘poor souls’ (‘pobres almas’) signifies not just the poor in spirit, but the literal poor, the masses in Mexico for whom Rhodakanaty fought before and after his association with the Mormons. The possibilities for the poor in Mormon-style United Orders would have been appealing. … Rhodakanaty and Taylor were engaged in a good-faith dialogue while in reality neither fully understood the other. This would bode ill for future collaboration.
Their initial communications seem to have involved Rhodakanaty and Taylor talking past each other, which led to difficulties for Rhodakanaty staying involved with the Church in the long-term.
Rhodakanaty’s requests were sufficient enough for John Taylor to authorize and call a missionary group to travel to central Mexico and launch missionary work there. In November 1879, Apostle Moses Thatcher, James Z. Stewart, and Melitón Trejo (who had been corresponding with Plotino Rhodakanaty) traveled to Mexico City and met with Rhodakanaty and his circle of friends. Thatcher and his companions were enthusiastic about the situation and baptized and confirmed Rhodakanaty as well as Silviano Arteaga (one of Rhodakanaty’s inner circle) on November 20, 1879. Three days later, six others were baptized. Some of the new converts were ordained to the priesthood and Thatcher organized a branch with Rhodakanaty as president, Arteaga and another convert (José Ybarola) as his counselors.
Shortly thereafter, Thatcher dedicated Mexico for the preaching of the gospel. On January 25, 1880, on the upper floor of his hotel, Thatcher and others gathered and Thatcher offered the first prayer. As he recorded in his journal:
I was first in suplication, and did dedicate the land of Mexico to God our heavenly Father and should it be his will, to the colonization, by His Saints of any and or all works thereof: that through them salvation <may> come to many of the inhabitants of the republic, and especially to the remnants of Israel, the poor forsaken Lamanites, who for so many centuries have knew nought but bondage and sorrow. I prayed, that from this hour the fetters which have so long bound their bodys and souls might be by the power of God broken and shaken off: that their leading thoughtful men might have dreams, visions and manifestations to prepare them and their brethren for the truths of the gospel and a knowledge of their fathers, who knew God. That as the coming of the Spanish Conquerors foreshadowed their downfall, so might the coming of the messengers of peace, bringing tidings of great joy, foreshadow their near approaching deliverance and quickly establish, under God, their supremacy. That as the first thoroughly conquered them with the sword, so may the latter even more effectively conquer their hearts with the words of truth and the love of Christ Jesus our Lord. I dedicated unto this end and for the good of God’s servant the lands the water the timbers and all surroundings and prayed that peace might hover over the face thereof, that violence might be removed and revolutions and the shedding of blood removed and that to this end the hearts of government officials and influential men of the nation might be softened and inclined to peace, instead of hardened and given to intrigues and war.
This dedicatory prayer laid out the expectations and desires of Moses Thatcher for the Mexican Mission in its earliest days.
At that point, things looked promising for this first mission in Mexico. Subsequent events would unfold rapidly, however, ultimately leading to a downturn in success. But first, they would continue to proselytize and bring in some stalwart pioneers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 Clate W. Mask Jr., “Standing Spotless before the Lord,” CR April 2004, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2004/04/standing-spotless-before-the-lord.p23?lang=eng
 Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Cartilla Socialista; o sea Catecismo elemental de la Escuela Socialista de Carlos Fourier (Mexico City: n.p., 1871), 1. Cited in Bill Smith and Jared M. Tamez, “Plotino C. Rhodakanaty: Mormonism’s Greek Austrian Mexican Socialist,” in Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, ed. Jason H. Dormady and Jared M. Tamez (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 59.
 Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, “Letter, 15 December 1878, Mexico City, to the President and Apostles of ‘The Christian Church of the Latter-day Saints’, Salt Lake City, Utah”, cited in Smith and Tamez, 60-61.
 Smith and Tamez, 61.
 See F. LaMond Tullis, Grass Roots in Mexico: Stories of Pioneering Latter-day Saints (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2021), 6-7.
 Moses Thatcher Journal, January 25, 1880, https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/MMD/id/32845/rec/4. See also https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2022/04/12/dedicatory-prayer-for-mexico/.
 First Presidency (John Taylor) correspondence, 1877-1887; Letters, 1878; Plotino C. Rhodakanaty letters, 1878; Plotino C. Rhodakanaty letter, Mexico City, Mexico; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/fe54957f-9462-4bcb-8fa3-1b326e3bfb48/0/2 (accessed: October 22, 2022)