On March 11, photographs of the 15 Apostles were taken, in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center, in front of statues of the Christus and the original Twelve Apostles. The photos electrified members of the Church around the world.
The moment was historic. The image instantly iconic. But all the pictures combined are no match for the Spirit-witnessing conformation of the unity and brotherhood of this mighty and heroic band of Christ’s disciples.
President Russell M. Nelson brought, under the direction of the Lord, all of the Apostles to the Eternal City for what he would later describe as an important hinge point in the history of the gospel. Of the many images that could have been taken, the Prophet was only concerned with one photo — The First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles all together. The message was unity. The signal of the importance of being one was a leadership masterclass for the ages.
As the Apostles began to assemble in the visitors' center, energy, power and love cascaded into the rotunda. Everyone sensed the historic nature of what was taking place. The Apostles were together. The sweetest association of brotherhood was on full display. The joy of the gospel and the culture of a group so absolutely absorbed in the cause of proclaiming the reality of the living Savior to the world was palpable and real.
As the brethren took their places, a hush came over all who had crowded in to watch the gathering of these special witnesses documented by photograph. After the pictures of them in their traditional dark suits, the Twelve went into the temple to change into their white clothing.
The Twelve emerged together and began walking down the piazza steps alongside the water flowing from the front of the temple down to the visitors' center, where the statue representing the Savior they serve waited with arms outstretched. The sight of these Apostles walking together, talking, and clearly rejoicing in their unity literally took one's breath away. It was a scene that would have fit perfectly on the road to Emmaus or along the shore of Galilee.
As the second set of pictures was about to be taken, a similar reverence fell up on the group. The Christus statue was, as the Savior always is, the center point and uniting force for the Apostles, I happened to be standing next to Sister Wendy Nelson. She clearly felt the spiritual magnitude of the moment and softly said, “That will bring tears to your eyes.”
My eyes were already wet, and in my mind I was suddenly transported to a place and time that had nearly vanished from my memory. I was in Copenhagen, Denmark in June of 2008, sitting in the Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady), where the original Thorvaldsen statues of the Christus and of the Twelve Apostles stand. I remember sitting toward the back of that small cathedral while reading Elder Boyd K. Packer’s 1976 account of his visit there with President Spencer W. Kimball. Looking at the statue of Peter, President Kimball boldly declared that he then held the same apostolic keys.
That scene and that moment also brought tears of testimony. As I sat in the Vor Frue Kirke, I pulled out a notepad and wrote words to match my testimony and attempted to capture the visual majesty before me of the Savior Jesus Christ with His beloved and valiant Apostles.
To establish His Father’s kingdom
Christ went to a mount to pray
Then prayed to God straight through the night
And then when it was day –
Christ called to Him, His disciples
And from among them twelve He chose
Whom He also named Apostles
Prophets, Seers whose witness shows –
That Jesus is the Living Christ
Our Lord and Savior, God and King.
That through His grand Atonement
All can know the joy salvation brings.
Now to become a special witness
And proclaim Christ’s true divinity
Mere faith alone is not enough
There must be certainty.
Apostles can’t just know of Christ,
His resurrection and gospel plan,
They must come to truly know Him
Then bear that witness to all of man –
That Jesus is the way, the truth
The light by which we see
The pathway to discipleship
His call, “Come, follow me.”
Peter and the Twelve held keys
To guide the Saints and lead the Church,
But persecution was strong, the martyred Apostles soon gone,
Then the world began a search –
Through ages dark and centuries long
Where wickedness did reign,
They sought the keys to the Apostleship
To restore Christ’s Church again.
At last the Heavens opened up
And the long dark night, turned day,
When a humble boy in a Sacred Grove
Asked to know Christ’s chosen way –
Christ called for new Apostles
Sent Peter, James and John with keys
Restoring sacred priesthood power
To exalt the human family.
Thus Joseph, then the chosen Twelve
Became special witnesses here on earth
For Jesus Christ the Living and
His doctrines — and covenants of great worth.
And still today Christ’s Apostles dear
Boldly testify and speak;
Invite us to pursue discipleship
The Risen Lord to seek!
— Boyd C. Matheson,
June 2008, Copenhagen, Denmark
While a picture may be worth a thousand words, the actual taking of the photograph left most in the room utterly speechless — without any words to adequately express what was seen and felt. But maybe 15 words would be a good place to start: Savior, Apostles, Unity, Keys, Love, Witness, Testimony, Power, Prophets, Temple, Family, Covenants, Revelation, Jesus, Christ.
Monday in Rome, the picture captured the moment. But all the words and photos in the world wither in the face of the silent yet stirring testimony to be found in the lives, teachings and examples of the Apostles. They share with the world their sweet unity of spirit and certain witnesses as they continue to “go and teach all nations,” as Christ has commissioned them to do. This is ministering in the Savior’s higher, holier way.
Boyd Matheson is the opinion editor and head of strategic reach at the Deseret News