ROME — In the Eternal City, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered Sunday for the dedication of a building they see as being essential to binding families together for eternity.
The president of the church offered a prayer to dedicate the temple for sacred use in the first of seven dedicatory sessions for the church's first temple in Rome.
President Russell M. Nelson also led the cornerstone ceremony early Sunday morning, where presiding leaders and their spouses exited the temple and placed mortar around the cornerstone, according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Newsroom website. Children were also invited to participate in effectively placing "cement in the cracks,” as President Nelson put it, to finish the creation of the temple.
This ceremony is symbolic of the temple's completion before its dedication, Newsroom said. It also represents Latter-day Saints' belief in Jesus Christ as the central cornerstone of their faith.
Shortly afterward, the man whom Latter-day Saint faithful revere as a prophet then offered the dedicatory prayer inside the temple.
“In this ancient and great city that has stood since biblical times — in this historic nation of Italy — we acknowledge the ministry of two of Thy Son’s early apostles, Peter and Paul, who once blessed this land with their labors," President Nelson said in the dedicatory prayer. "May the influence of their abiding testimony of Jesus Christ continue to be felt among the vital values of this great country.”
He also offered gratitude to church, government and civic leaders in Rome, and asked for God to bless them for their kindness, according to the Newsroom.
“These members of the church will prosper, the country will prosper, neighboring nations will prosper, the effect of this temple will be incalculably great," President Nelson later said to members of the media.
The Rome Temple was announced in October 2008 by the late-President Thomas S. Monson. Since then, Italian Latter-day Saints have anxiously awaited its arrival.
“Rome is the middle of the world, and so we always prayed and we (fasted) for the realization of this temple," said a woman named Francesa who attended the dedication. "We never gave up."
The temple is also significant for church members who live in neighboring European Union countries, simplifying their ability to travel to attend a temple. Members like Luciano Fremu, who traveled from Romania to attend the dedication. Fremu called the dedication "maybe the most important event in our church in Europe."
And while Latter-day Saints around the world excitedly followed the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple, perhaps few were as interested as Taylorsville resident Kurt Manwaring. He served a mission in Rome from 1999 until 2000, and he was there when the land for the temple was purchased. Craig Pacini, who oversaw Manwaring's mission at the time, is now serving as president of the Italy Rome Temple, and will oversee the work done in the temple.
“While I’m disappointed I can’t be there in person for the dedication, I’m pleased my mission president is able to represent me as the new temple president," Manwaring said in an email. "This is such a long-awaited blessing for all of Italy.”
In a city like Rome with extensive religious history and prominent religious influence in its architecture, Manwaring believes the Rome Italy Temple will fit right in.
“All of the temples are amazing,” he told KSL.com. “The church seems to go out of its way to make sure it fits the environment. In the case of the Rome temple, they have exceeded everything I’ve seen them do before. It fits perfectly.”
Manwaring said all missionaries had the chance to see the land that had been set aside for the temple once it had been purchased.
“One thing (our mission president) taught us when we were there was that if we just worked with all of our hearts and loved the people, there would come a time when there would be temples (in Rome,) even if it didn’t appear to be directly resulting from our service.”
Manwaring feels that, though he only played a small part, the Rome Italy Temple is a great measure of progress of the work done by missionaries in Rome.
Meg Benson Ferry served a mission in Rome from 1981 to 1983. Nearly four decades later she was able to witness the dedication of the Church's newest sacred place.
"I would have never thought that I would see the day when there would be a temple in Italy," she said. "I think it's just such a testament to how much the Lord loves the Italians and how much confidence he has in them."
The temple's proximity to Vatican City offers another unique element to the dedication of the Latter-day Saint house of worship. Vatican City, which houses the Pope and serves as a holy land and headquarters for the religion, is nestled in Rome, and Pew Research reported that 78 percent of Italians are Catholic.
It was significant, then, that President Nelson met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, the first president of the Church of Jesus Christ ever to meet with a pope.
"We talked about our mutual concern for the people who suffer throughout the world and want to relieve human suffering," President Nelson told Newsroom. "We talked about 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."
The Rome Italy Temple will be the Church’s 162nd operating temple, according to the Newsroom. The dedication will continue with two sessions on Monday and two more on Tuesday, in addition to three sessions offered Sunday.
Contributing: Carole Mikita and Sam Penrod, KSL TV