Rome is renowned worldwide as the "Eternal City." That lofty designation has never rung truer for some 25,000 Italian Mormons.
On Oct. 23, President Thomas S. Monson commenced construction on the Rome Italy Temple. The Church president presided over the groundbreaking ceremony here, imparting words of direction and love before offering a prayer of thanksgiving and dedication on the temple project.
With a Mormon temple in the works, the blessings of eternal family can soon be secured inside Italy, a country rich with Church history and significance.
"With regard to the temple which will be built upon this site, it means everything to Latter-day Saints," President Monson said during his remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony. "It unites families here and in eternity.
"I love the words of President Joseph F. Smith, who said that in the spirit world, those who learn of the work being performed for them here will rejoice as their chains of bondage fall from them, and they will give thanks for the work which has been done for them."
Following the groundbreaking ceremony, President Monson spoke to the Church News and summarized the significance of the day's events: "This is one of the greatest blessings that has ever come to Italy. I'll look forward to the time when [the Rome Italy Temple] is completed and hope that the Lord will let me be here to dedicate it."
In a city synonymous with historic heft, the building of a temple in Rome is "incomparable," he added.
President Monson was joined at the groundbreaking ceremony by Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Temple Department. Also attending was the Europe Area Presidency — Elder Erich W. Kopischke, Elder Gerald Causse and Elder Jose A. Teixeira.
Hundreds of local priesthood leaders and their families from all regions of Italy attended the event. A mixed choir sang hymns for President Monson and the other General Authorities, including a stirring interpretation of "We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet" in Italian.
The ceremony marked the first time a Church president had been in Italy in over 30 years. But President Monson is no stranger to Europe's "boot." He has directed the work in Italy through past apostolic assignments and his eldest son, Thomas Lee Monson, served a mission to Milan.
"[My son] set the stage for our family to feel the spirit of Italy, which is very close to the spirit of God," he said.
Despite the overcast October skies, President Monson dubbed Oct. 23rd a "wonderful day."
"I cannot adequately convey to you the joy I feel on this historic occasion. As I contemplate our warm welcome here in this city which is so rich in history — including the history of Christianity — my heart is filled with gratitude," President Monson said in addressing those gathered for the groundbreaking event.
He noted that the ancient apostles Peter and Paul were missionaries in what is now Italy. Eighteen-hundred years later, in 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow and two companions, Elder Stenhouse and Elder Toronto, traveled to the valleys of the Piedmont Mountains in northeast Italy to begin missionary efforts in this dispensation.
"Although the work was interrupted after a few years, it began again in earnest when in 1965 President Ezra Taft Benson sought and received permission from the Italian government for missionaries to again enter the country. From humble beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy has grown to nearly 25,000 members."
President Monson expressed his gratitude for the missionaries who have left an eternal impression on Italy. "I believe that our Heavenly Father will permit those early missionary pioneers, including President Lorenzo Snow and others who helped bring the Church to Italy and who have now gone beyond the veil, to be present on this historic occasion, for temple work is truly not only for time; it is for eternity."
The miracle of a temple in Rome was preceded by the faithful actions of many temple-going Italians.
"I pay tribute to the members who have been so faithful in traveling to the temple in Bern, Switzerland, there to perform work for themselves and for those who have passed from this life," said President Monson. "Such devotion to temple work has contributed to the wonderful blessing which will soon be ours — that of having a temple; a House of the Lord — here on this sacred spot in this beautiful city.
"Members throughout Italy, and indeed the entire Mediterranean area, will be able to come here, no longer needing to travel such long distances, often at great expense."
President Monson concluded his remarks asking God's blessings on the homes, work and lives of the Italian members. "May you be good citizens of your cities and countries."
All can be pioneers, he declared, by showing others the way to follow. "Let this day be a day of rededication in our lives as it is a day of dedication for this ground upon which will be built a temple to our Heavenly Father."
In his prayer of thanksgiving and dedication, the Church president asked the Lord to "bless this spot, hallow it, sanctify it; grant that it may be worthy for a house of Thine.”
He asked for blessings to be upon all who participate in the construction of the temple, “that no harm, no danger, no accident may befall; that the workmanship may be beautiful and worthy of the house which will be built."
Elder Walker, who conducted the groundbreaking ceremony said in his opening remarks that he is certain that heaven was smiling on the groundbreaking ceremony. Latter-day Saints and Italy and across the globe "view this as a great and historic date."
He spoke of President Monson's commitment to building temples. "Now, in his third year as president of the Church, President Monson has dedicated 10 new temples and has announced plans for the construction for 20 more temples."
Elder Walker noted the significance of commencing temple building in a city such as Rome. "Of all the temples President Monson has announced, perhaps this one is most historic, the Rome Italy Temple,” he said.
"This great city is known throughout the world for its history, for its beauty and its Christian traditions. Now it will be the home of one of the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Elder Walker encouraged the Italian members to prepare for their new temple by following Christ's example and the direction of the living prophet.
Elder Kopischke called the groundbreaking ceremony a day of testimony and gratitude. There are 11 temples operating in Europe. The future Rome temple will be Number 12, and another has been announced for Lisbon, Portugal.
"The Lord is covering Europe with temples and there is a good reason for that: the people of Europe need the blessings of the restored gospel and the covenants and blessings of the temple," he said.
Bern Switzerland Temple President Raimondo Castellani also spoke at the ceremony, offering his testimony and counsel in his native tongue.
After offering the dedicatory prayer, President Monson stepped from the podium and turned the first dirt with a commemorative shovel, signaling the beginning of the building of the Rome temple. Other Church leaders took their turn, along with Italian civic leaders Senator Lucio Malan and Rome's vice mayor Giuseppe Ciardi, who both attended the event.
Soon local priesthood leaders, their wives and even several children were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Monson, turning soil with shovels and contemplating a day when a temple would be forever dedicated in the Eternal City.