Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints heard a big announcement in the opening session of general conference Saturday.
President Thomas S. Monson surprised tens of thousands of people in the Conference Center and millions more gathered around the world when he said, "This morning, I am pleased to announce five new temples."
"Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Cordoba, Argentina; the greater Kansas City area; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Rome, Italy," he said.
When Pres. Monson said one would be built in Rome, surprise shot through the crowd at the Conference Center. Conference-goers called it unexpected.
Linda Ann Taala, of Taylorsville, Utah, said, "That's the headquarters of the Catholic Church, and it's interesting to see we're going to have representation there, too."
Russell Ferry, of Corrine, Utah, said, "The Rome temple, I was really surprised that we had that much church membership there. That's really neat that we have that."
A viewer wrote on our KSL.com comment board that land for the temple in Rome is 10 acres within the "circle road" that surrounds the main city. Besides the increased membership, he said another thing needed to happen, and that "included official government recognition of the LDS Church as a ‘church,' which happened last year."
He also said, "As an emissary to Italy, I have been waiting for this day for six long years and am very happy it has finally come."
From Google Earth you can see Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica. Others on our comment board say property being discussed for a temple is to the north and east.
The Rome temple will be the church's first in Italy, first in the Mediterranean region, and the twelfth in Europe. It will serve church members from a variety of countries and greatly reduce travel time and expense to the Latter-day Saints living in the area. The church has had a presence in Italy since 1850, although its missionaries have not always been allowed to proselytize there, according to information on a church Web site.
A temple in the greater Kansas City area could mean Missouri. Early Saints were driven out of Missouri, leaving temple sites. A temple now will bring the faith full circle there.
The exact locations of the temples will be announced at a later date. Not since April of 2000 have so many temples been announced together.
The 13 million-member Utah-based church currently has 128 operating temples worldwide, with more in some phase of planning or construction before Saturday's announcement.
Temples play an important role in the lives of Latter-day Saints. Only members in good standing may enter the buildings, where members perform sacred religious ceremonies, including proxy baptisms and wedding ceremonies known as sealings.
Worldwide temple building is a legacy from 15th church president Gordon B. Hinckley, who began the accelerated effort so that members of the church outside the United States could more easily access the buildings to perform their religious rituals. However, construction of temples has been a part of Latter-day Saint history since the earliest days of the church.
The locations selected for new temples reflect the growth of the church. According to a church news release, the placement of temples in Philadelphia and the greater Kansas City area reflects steady church growth throughout the United States, where there are now several dozen temples.
The Calgary temple will increase the number of temples in Canada to eight. The Cordoba temple will be the second in Argentina and bring the total number of temples in Latin America to 34.
A rapidly growing faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a presence in more than 170 countries. The church is well established in North and South America and Europe. In recent years, some of the most rapid growth has occurred in Africa.
More than 52,000 church missionaries are serving around the world. But Pres. Monson said Saturday there remain places where Latter-day Saints are not allowed to freely proselytize.
"I urge you to pray for the opening of those areas that we might share with them the joy of the Gospel," he told members.
Following the announcement of the temple plans, other church leaders addressed economic concerns.
Elder L. Tom Perry, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, "Newspapers are filled with reports of the current housing crisis."
"Our income should determine the kind of housing we can afford, not the neighbor's big home across the street," he said.
Saturday evening, Pres. Monson discussed difficult economic times with the men of the faith. He noted that businesses have failed, jobs have been lost and investments jeopardized. "We must make certain that those for whom we share responsibilities do not go hungry or unclothed or unsheltered," he said.
He urged Latter-day Saints to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt and assured them that the financial affairs of the church are being managed that way.
There are two sessions of general conference on Sunday. You can watch them on KSL TV 5, KSL.com or listen on KSL Newsradio 102.7FM/1160 AM at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)