Announcement: 4 October 2008
On December 6, 2009, another special fast was held by members and friends of the Rome Italy Stake for City approval of the Rome Italy Temple. While significant progress has been made, the process is not over. Additional meetings are expected in the month of December. A beautiful design has been completed for the temple, but it is not available for public view. An Italian residence that once stood on the temple site and housed full-time missionaries has already been razed in preparation for the temple complex. (1)
On September 6, 2009, a special fast was held for the temple by members in Rome and many former missionaries and friends in anticipation of a review of the Church's request by City officials later that month. Plans call for a complex of buildings that include the temple, a meetinghouse, and a patron housing facility. Although just a small section of the site was originally permitted for construction of the temple, recent zoning modifications—a miracle in itself—allow the entire parcel of land to be used for construction of these buildings. (2)
On February 24, 2009, Elder Dallin H. Oaks met with all of the missionaries of the Italy Rome Mission in a spiritually charged meeting. That evening, he was the speaker at a special member and investigator fireside. His comments focused on preparing for the temple. He spoke of paying tithing, preparing to be ordinance workers, and of receiving what the temple offers: knowledge, covenants, and promised blessings. He urged all in attendance to pray daily that the hearts of the government officials would be softened in regards to the temple. Elder Oaks had already met with these officials to discuss its construction, which he said went very well. (3)
The Rome Italy Temple will be built on an elevated 15-acre site in northeast Rome near the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the circular road (beltway) that surrounds the city. The picturesque country site, punctuated by an exiquisite stand of olive trees, sits on the outskirts of the city at a freeway interchange. (4)
Building sites in Rome must be examined for Roman ruins before construction is permitted. The inspection is carried out by digging trenches every 10 to 15 feet across the property. The day the temple property was to be inspected, Church members in Rome held a special fast. No ruins were found over the entire property, yet an old Roman village was discovered just 100 yards beyond the property boundary line. The Church purchased the property in the late 1990s. (5)
Italian members met the announcement of the Rome Italy Temple with the animated cheering and enthusiasm you would expect to see in a sports arena during a last-second win, explained President Massimo De Feo, president of the Rome Italy Stake, in a recent interview. He also added that since the temple announcement, the Stake is seeing the baptism of full families for the first time. In just the past five years, the number of stakes in Italy has grown from three to six. And temple attendance at the distant Bern Switzerland Temple has been much higher from the Saints in Italy than from any other country in the temple district. (6)
President Thomas S. Monson's announcement of a temple to be constructed in Rome was met with an audible gasp and smiles from the congregation gathered in the Conference Center for the Saturday morning session of the October 2008 General Conference. (7) The Rome Italy Temple will be the first temple in Italy and in the Mediterranean region.
The Rome Italy Temple will be the twelfth temple built in Europe and the first built in Italy.
A charming home, which stood at the highest point of the temple site, was razed to make way for the Rome Italy Temple. It served for a time as an apartment for the full-time missionaries.
The growth of the Church in Italy has not been without its opposition. Just three years after the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, the first missionaries arrived in Genova, Italy, on June 25, 1850, including Elder Lorenzo Snow, who would become the fifth president of the Church. Over the next three years, 221 people were baptized and organized into three branches. But most proselytizing in Italy stopped in the early 1860s in the face of local opposition and because of a request from Church leaders for Italian members to immigrate to Utah. An attempt to reopen missionary work in Italy in 1900 was refused by the government.
The Church was finally reestablished in Italy in 1951, following the conversion of Vincenzo di Francesca, who happened to find a burned copy of the Book of Mormon with a missing cover and title page. Italians who had joined the Church in other countries began to return to Italy during this period. They attended Church with LDS serviceman stationed in Italy in various branches. By the end of 1964, Church records showed 229 members in Italy. That same year, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, an apostle who would become the 13th president of the Church, petitioned the government for permission to resume missionary work. Permission was granted, and missionaries began to proselyte on January 27, 1965. By 1978, membership has grown to over 7,000 and increased to 14,000 by 1990. Today there are over 22,600 members organized into 6 stakes and 7 districts. (8)
Although missionary work had been allowed in Italy since 1964, the Church began in 2000 the lengthy process of seeking a concordat with the government that would grant it state-sponsored status. This status was granted to the Roman Catholic Church in a concordat signed by Mussolini—a relationship that was perpetuated into Italy's post-fascist constitution. Since 1984, however, the Catholic Church has had to share this level of government recognition with other religions operating in Italy. Approved churches become concordates, which receive tax funds and other rights from the government similar to those received by the Catholic Church. (9)
At a London fireside, Elder Kenneth Johnson of the First Quorum of the Seventy related events that have contributed to the Italian government's official recognition of the Church. In October 2006, he accompanied other high-ranking Church leaders, including Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, to a meeting in Rome to make a case for the Church to the government. President Uchtdorf noted the Church's longtime presence and reputation in Italy, but the presiding government official seemed unmoved. Instead, he related that he had traveled—without announcement—to Salt Lake City in preparation for the meeting. Two Italian sister missionaries had served as his guides on Temple Square. He noted the deep impression left on him by these two Italian citizens, and then inquired when the Church might build a temple in Rome. Once these papers are signed, Elder Uchtdorf replied. The officer signed. In April 2007, Prime Minister Prodi gave his signature, and then it proceeded to Parliament. (10)
With legal recognition still stalled in Parliament in late 2009, the Church took the step of hiring a Washington, D.C., lobbyist to help push through the approval. A. Elizabeth Jones, a former high-level State Department employee and ambassador to Kazakhstan, who is now an executive vice president at APCO Worldwide, is lobbying the U.S. embassy in Italy to support the Church's application. The intesa—an Italian term referring to an "understanding" with the government—would carry certain privileges including facilitating the authorization of bishops to perform civilly recognized marriages and making the renewal of visas for missionaries easier. (11)
1. President and Sister Pacini, "Special Fast December 6, 2009," Facebook 3 Dec. 2009, 7 Dec. 2009
2. President and Sister Pacini, "Fast for Temple," Facebook 28 Aug. 2009, 29 Oct. 2009
3. Karen & Will, Online Posting, e' Felice Italian 28 Feb. 2009, 29 Oct. 2009
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints News Release, "New Temple Site Locations Announced," 7 Oct. 2008
5. "Rome Italy Temple News," Online posting, 9 Nov. 2008
6. Massimo De Feo, "Massimo De Feo—Stake President in Rome, Italy," Mormon Channel: Into All the World 29 Apr. 2009, 13 Jun. 2009
7. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints News Release, "Church Continues Temple Building Throughout the World," 4 Oct. 2008
8. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints News Release, "First Temple Announced in Rome," 4 Oct. 2008
9. Peggy Fletcher Stack, "LDS Church Wants to Be Official in Italy," The Salt Lake Tribune 9 Sept. 2000: A1
10. John F., "Two LDS Senators in London," Online posting, 21 May 2007, 6 Oct. 2008
11. Carrie Levine, "For Italian Job, Mormons Ask a D.C. Insider for Help," The National Law Journal 6 Oct. 2009, 29 Oct. 2009
Jane Parker, who is the late Elder Wirthlin's daughter, told us the following story today in Relief Society. She went to a talk by a lawyer for the European Area (each area of the Church has a legal department.) The talk was about the ability to have a temple built in Rome, Italy.
He stated that they knew they needed to have contact with the cardinals of the Catholic Church to see if they would approve or go along with our desire to have a temple built there. He heard of a reception at which the cardinals would be present, and the legal department for the church was also invited. He approached one cardinal
and talked to him about the issue.
The cardinal said, "We will support you in any effort you want because of your support of Proposition 8 in California."
Jane's comment was that she doesn't think the Church people in California who worked so long and so hard on getting that proposition passed and many even suffered persecution probably know that they were the instruments in getting a temple built in Rome, Italy.
Please allow me to add a little more to this inspiring story. (Joseph I. Bentley)
The lawyer mentioned was John Zackrison -- a friend of mine who told LDS attorneys attending our Annual JRCLS Leadership Conf. about this last month. John told us that the Church has owned this temple site for several years. But it was close enough to the Vatican that in order to build a temple there, it required consents from both the Mayor of Rome and the Pope.
At the reception John met the one Cardinal who was charged with approving the temple on behalf of the Pope. The cardinal arranged a followup meeting and John invited the European Area President to attend. He could not attend, but sent his counselor. At the meeting the cardinal soon discovered that both he and the counselor spoke French.
Then they discovered that both of them were from the same city(Bordeaux). And, then, they learned that both had gone to the same school!
Who can deny the Lord's hand in all of this?
Joseph I. Bentley, Director
Orange County Public Affairs