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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has met with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the first-such meeting of its kind, on the eve of the dedication of the church's new temple in Rome.
President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ, and President M. Russell Ballard, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met with the Pope for 33 minutes before leaving to meet with members of the media, the church's Newsroom website reported.
"We had a most cordial, unforgettable experience. His Holiness, he was most gracious and warm and welcoming," President Nelson told Newsroom. "What a sweet, wonderful man he is, and how fortunate the Catholic people are to have such a gracious, concerned, loving and capable leader."
The two church leaders conferred on the "importance of religious liberty, the importance of the family, our mutual concern for the youth of the church, for the secularization of the world and the need for people to come to God and worship Him, pray to Him and have the stability that faith in Jesus Christ will bring in their lives," President Nelson said.
Elder Alessandro Dini-Ciacci, a local leader in Rome who attended the historic meeting, said it was "beautiful to witness."
"How inspiring it was for me to witness two of the leaders of the leading faiths in the world meet together and share brotherhood," Elder Dini-Ciacci, said.
The Church has worked hard to cultivate a strong connection with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City in Utah, Newsroom said.
"Latter-day Saints cherish the long-standing friendship we have developed with the Catholic community in Utah and around the world," President Ballard told Newsroom.
My favorite image from the historic Vatican meeting today, as President @NelsonRussellM presented Pope Francis with a replica of the Christus statue. #lds#mormonhttps://t.co/pNK2UJ5UJOpic.twitter.com/jiEHH3H9YZ— Tad Walch (@Tad_Walch) March 9, 2019
The Latter-day Saint church's top leaders are in town for the dedication Sunday of their new temple, which features an oval-shaped marble house of worship crowning a hilltop and a visitor center featuring a larger-than-life marble statue of Christ surrounded by smaller statues of the apostles in Jesus' time.
All members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency are in Rome for the dedication, which is the first time the entire the heads of the church have all gathered outside the U.S. The Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency together make up the church's top leadership.
Contributing: The Associated Press