By JENNIFER DOBNER
Associated Press Writer
SALT LAKE CITY - Mormonism's home is America, but most of its believers don't live here anymore.
In the past 13 years the church has flourished as never before around the world, with new temples rising in Africa and South America and new members joining by the tens of thousands.
The expansion is a testament to the tireless work of Gordon B. Hinckley, the church's president and a sort of spiritual pioneer who traveled as no Mormon leader had before to raise the church's profile. He died Sunday at age 97.
Claudio Zivic, who oversees the church's affairs in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, recalled a Hinckley address to a crowd of 50,000 in Buenos Aires in 1996.
"We know that all the prophets are very special for us. But he touched our lives in every possible way," Zivic said in an interview from Buenos Aires. "He has taught us to be a little better, to stand a little taller and to do what is right."
Surrounded by family and friends, Hinckley died at home Sunday night of complications arising from old age. He was the oldest church president and served in that post for nearly 13 years, beginning in March 1995.
His funeral will be held Saturday at the church conference center here and broadcast via satellite in 69 languages and on the Internet, spokeswoman Kim Farah said. There will be a public viewing Thursday and Friday.
The sense of loss among the Mormon faithful was more than evident.
Dozens of mourners gathered outside Mormon church headquarters to honor Hinckley. College students sang hymns by the light of their cell phones.
Kelly Ford, 28, of Kaysville stared at a painting of Hinckley in the church visitor's center as a snowstorm swirled outside. She recalled how he had taken time to speak to teenagers.
"He was a complete optimist. He talked about our potential and what the Lord expects of us," Ford said. "He was the greatest optimist I've ever known."
Republican Mitt Romney - whose bid to become the first Mormon elected president has also raised the profile of the church - said Monday he would miss the humility and wisdom of Hinckley and plans to attend his funeral.
Hinckley's successor is not expected to be named until after he is laid to rest, although church tradition indicates that 80-year-old Thomas S. Monson, the most senior member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, could step into the role.
The church began in 1830 with just six members, and by the end of Hinckley's tenure it had crossed the threshold of 13 million members.
About 5.7 million - less than half the church's worldwide membership - are in the United States, and a third of them live in Utah. While the church is among the fastest growing in the U.S., membership is rising more rapidly overseas, primarily in Africa and Latin America.
"Without a doubt that was part of his vision from the first," said Bruce Olsen, managing director of public relations for the church. "His ability to articulate that vision and see the big pictures helped that move along."
Mormons have always been missionaries, but the first major international effort to grow the church was in the late 1830s, when missionaries were sent to England, drawing more than 1,000 converts back to the United States. From there the work spread to Denmark and other part of Western Europe.
In a statement Monday, President Bush praised Hinckley as a "deeply patriotic man."
"While serving for over seven decades in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon demonstrated the heart of a servant and the wisdom of a leader," Bush said. "He was a tireless worker and a talented communicator who was respected in his community and beloved by his congregation."
In 2006, the church said 94,000 new members were children born into the faith and 272,845 were converted worldwide. Hinckley urged the faithful to increase the number of baptisms in North America.