SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church made history and injected diversity into a top leadership panel Saturday by selecting the first-ever Latin-American apostle and the first-ever apostle of Asian ancestry.

The selections of Ulisses Soares of Brazil and Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese-American, were announced at the start of a twice-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

They join a panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that, before Saturday, was made up entirely of white men from the U.S. with the exception of one German, Dieter Uchtdorf.

The all-male panel sits below church President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors and helps set church policy and oversees the faith’s business interests.

The selections of Soares and Gong are likely to trigger applause from a contingent of Mormons who were eager to see the faith’s global footprint represented in leadership. More than half of the religion’s 16 million members live outside the United States.

The last time there were openings on the quorum, in October 2015, the church chose three Utah men.

With 1.4 million members, Brazil has the second-most in the world along with Mexico. Both rank behind the United States, which has about 6.6 million members.

Like the previous 12 men chosen for the Quorum, Soares and Gong were serving in a lower-level leadership panel for the church.

The 59-year-old Soares was an accountant and auditor for multinational corporations in Brazil before joining church leadership, according to a church biography. He was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The 64-year-old Gong worked for the U.S. State Department, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and Mormon-owned Brigham Young University before being selected for the lower-tier church leadership panel. He was born in Redwood City, California.