Rome has perhaps more Christian history associated with it than any other place except Israel, where Jesus Christ actually lived and taught. It is difficult to review the history of Christianity in a brief way, but the history has been at times a violent and bloody one. Many Christians were killed for their beliefs and practices, but soon many hearts were touched and thousands began to convert to Christianity. In 313 A.D., the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal, and eventually the tables were turned completely, and the worship of other gods was made illegal.
Soon thereafter, Rome became the center of the Christian world. Popes have ruled from Rome over Catholicism for hundreds and hundreds of years. While having such a strong foundation in Christianity is a wonderful thing, the deeply steeped traditions of Catholicism which reign in Italy can make it difficult for other Christian denominations to grow. Some Catholics feel anger towards The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church) for claiming the only direct authority of God on the earth. Mormon doctrine teaches that the priesthood authority (or the authority to act in God’s name) was lost from the earth after the apostles were martyred. This authority was restored to Joseph Smith directly from heavenly messengers — Peter, James, and John.
The first Mormon missionary to enter Italy was future Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow, who arrived in June 1850. After laboring in northern Italy for three years, he and fellow missionary Joseph Toronto had baptized 211 people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who were organized into three branches. The work was hard, and the people held fast to their old traditions, making it missionary work more difficult. However, in the 1860s, most missionary work in Italy ceased, due to local opposition. Church leaders requested the Italian converts to emigrate to Utah. The Church tried to reopen missionary work in 1900, but the government refused to grant them access. It was not until 1951, following the conversion of a man named Vincenzo di Francesca, whose remarkable history sent him into a years-long search for the gospel, that the Mormon Church began to grow again in Italy. By 1964, church records showed 229 members in Italy, and Elder Ezra Taft Benson obtained permission from the Italian government to send proselytizing missionaries to Italy in 1965. In just 13 years, church membership had increased to 7,000, and had grown to 14,000 by 1990. The number of stakes doubled from three to six in the past five years, and today there are more than 22,600 members in Italy.
In 2000, leaders of the Mormon Church began seeking official recognition from the Italian government. The lengthy process has been full of miracles. In October 2006, some church leaders met with Roman officials to plead their case, but officials seemed unmoved. The presiding government official surprised the church leaders by telling them he had made an unannounced visit to Salt Lake City (where Mormon Church headquarters are located) to prepare for meeting the Mormon Church officials in Italy. Two sister missionaries guided him around Temple Square, without knowing this man’s importance. He said they had left a deep impression on him. This official asked Church leaders when a temple might be built in Rome. Then-Elder Uchtdorf (now a member of the First Presidency) told the official his signature was needed first to grant the concordat. Though this official did sign, the process did not end there. On April 4, 2007, Prime Minister Prodi gave his signature, and then the document proceeded to the Italian parliament. After even more red tape, on May 13, 2010, the Italian Council of Ministers approved an intesa (Italian for “understanding”) with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, granting the Church Italy’s highest status for religions. A few more formalities need to be taken care of before the Mormon Church is officially recognized by the government, but huge steps have been taken.
When the Rome Italy Temple was announced, stake president Massimo De Feo said all the people attending the General Conference broadcast yelled for joy. In a radio interview, President De Feo talked about how he and local Latter-day Saints work in their communities, focusing on service projects such as community clean-up projects, blood drives, making wheel chairs to donate to Italian hospitals, visiting elderly and homeless facilities, and others, to try and show people that Mormons are committed to their religion and want to have a positive influence on their communities. When asked about the relationship between the Saints and the Catholics in Italy, President De Feo stated they try to work together to build a positive relationship. President De Feo also said that after many years of sacrifice on the part of the Italian Saints, there is now the general feeling that the Lord has recognized their dedication and is blessing them with a temple. Currently, Italian Saints have to travel to the Bern Switzerland Temple to do their own temple work.
Church leaders in Italy have seen a direct correlation between the announcement of the temple and missionary work. President De Feo said that for the first time ever in Italy, whole families are being baptized. He feels this is due to the knowledge the public has gained about the Church through the announcement that a temple will be built in Italy. This will be a huge blessing to countless people.
In addition to these miracles, getting the building site approved is another story.
President Acerson shares the Lord’s hand in the preparation and selection of the land designated to hold a House of the Lord–or Mormon temple in Rome, Italy.
Apparently, to qualify for a building permit, the land must be free of any ancient Roman ruins. To check the land, the city officials actually dig trenches across the property in review–every 10 to 15 feet. This they would need to do for the 14.8 acres of land that had been previously purchased as a possible temple site in the 1990s. In the event that Roman ruins exist beneath or on the property site, plans for construction are nullified, and no permits are issued (President Acerson’s blog).
On the day that the city inspectors were to visit the property, members of The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormons) in Rome, held a special fast. This is a day in which members abstain from food and water, and petition for the Lord’s will to occur and His power to be manifest in the ways He chooses for the advancement of His kingdom and the leading of souls to Him.
City officials found no trace of any Roman ruins on the entire acreage of selected property. Only 100 yards from the border of that same property, however, they found the remnants of an old Roman village.
The Lord is involved in the details of each House of His, each holy temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the earth.
Though the Saints in Italy continue to face trials and challenges, President De Feo responds in this way:
“Are there challenge? Yes. Do we get discouraged? No, because Jesus Christ leads and directs this church.”
On Sunday, July 10, 2011, a letter from the Rome Italy Stake Presidency was read in area sacrament meetings announcing that construction of the temple had officially begun. Since the formal groundbreaking in October, activity at the temple site has been limited to site activities including clearing, grading, transplanting, erection of a construction fence, and placement of construction trailers.
*As construction progresses, the submission of regular photographs is highly appreciated by members worldwide who wish to witness the construction of this beautiful temple in historic Rome.