ROME — President Russell M. Nelson's private audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace was of deep interest to an Italian reporter granted an exclusive interview with the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Even so, the Church's temple work dominated the 25-minute discussion.
Paolo Mastrolilli, the New York correspondent for the national Italian newspaper La Stampa, flew home to conduct the interview in the lobby of the Church's new Rome Italy Temple on March 11 with President Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring.
Though they sat together with him on chairs placed on a rug bearing the symbols of an oval, olive leaves, and Michelangelo's 12-pointed star, Mastrolilli began by interviewing them one at a time because the newspaper also wanted to post a video and the videographer had only one mic.
"Rome is the center of Catholicism," the reporter asked. "Why have you chosen it?"
"In the temple we have the highest ordinances and blessings that God can give to his people," President Nelson said. "And the people of Italy are no exception. They deserve these blessings."
The dynamic changed when the topic turned to what happens inside Latter-day Saint temples. Though President Eyring wore the mic, the three leaders began to play off each other.
Mastrolilli said he understood that Pope Francis had asked President Nelson to teach young people respect for their grandparents.
"Yes, he talked about their roots, and he likened it to a flower," President Nelson said. "It's beautiful when it's connected with its roots. And then when it's disconnected from its roots, it fades. So that was his feeling of compassion for our interests in the family."
Then President Eyring said ordinances performed in the Rome temple would allow people to have the expectation they can be together forever in a family. He told Mastrolilli he believed Latter-day Saints share that feeling with many Italians.
Sister Nelson and Sister Oaks also spoke with La Stampa correspondent Paolo Mastrolilli about women and equality within the Church. Here's what they said.
President Oaks said temple ordinances allow Latter-day Saints "to perform the essential ordinances of mortality for the benefit" of those who have died.
"Our belief," President Eyring added, "is that that ability to seal families reaches back into our ancestors. So the idea is those ordinances for the dead include the sealing of families together forever, so that I can, well, my great-great-great grandpa, somehow I can be with him again, and his family."
"So," President Oaks concluded, "we might say that the temple in Rome is for the benefit of Italians, living and dead."
That portion of the interview was not published by La Stampa. In fact, the newspaper published only responses from President Nelson in a question-and-answer format.
"Rome is the capital of world Christianity," President Oaks said. "Prior apostles preached here and/or were martyred here. And so it's very important to us when we have a sufficient base of members in this part of Europe, and particularly in Italy, to have our highest house of worship located here."
The Rome temple dedicatory prayer mentioned the early Apostles Peter and Paul. Read the entire prayer here.
Mastrolilli asked President Eyring if Church leaders hoped the temple and visitors' center would be a magnet to attract people looking for information about the Church.
"I think many will come and I think that message is the one we want to have them feel, that this is a place where people who worship Jesus Christ come," he said, adding, "We think of Jesus Christ as the heart of our church. We are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so this temple is a symbol of our faith in Jesus Christ, trying to build our lives around him."
Mastrolilli observed that in the United States, there is a strong participation of faith in public life, but in Europe, religion has been in general decline. He asked if the temple in Rome could start a process to reignite interest in religion.
"It's not a center to reach out," President Eyring said. "It's to draw in and to draw people here to us. And we're hoping that it gives a feeling to people of a religious and God-fearing environment. And of course that's the great contribution we can make."