On a clear, warm day, President Russell M. Nelson stood under blue skies just outside St. Peter’s Square, arm-in-arm with President M. Russell Ballard and two Italian Church leaders — Elder Massimo De Feo and Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci.
The men had just participated in an “unforgettable and historic” meeting on March 9 with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Elder De Feo, the Church’s first Italian General Authority Seventy, said that President Nelson; President Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Pope Francis “seemed to be like old friends after a minute. There was a fantastic, incredible, very positive feeling that gives us hope. I surely felt a great hope for the future because we have so much in common.”
I wondered if Elder De Feo was not only speaking of the Church leaders’ audience with Pope Francis, but also the unity that President Nelson employs across the globe.
In 2005 when then-Elder Nelson created the first stake in Rome, he called Elder De Feo to be the first stake president in the city. “It was clear to us then that he had a great future,” recalled President Nelson.
In 2016, President Ballard created a second stake in Rome, the Rome Italy West Stake, calling Elder Dini Ciacci, now an Area Seventy.
Now the four leaders were together again, linking arms in a spirit of unity.
Those of us observing President Nelson in Rome felt the significance and importance of his ability to connect with others over and over again. We saw it as he embraced pioneer Italian members. We saw it as he greeted youth. And we saw it as he interacted with his Brethren in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
He made the decision to take all the Church’s senior leaders to Rome. “It was very clear to me that I was to invite all my colleagues, and so I was just following my instructions,” he said. “The Brethren thank me for the privilege of coming, but I thank the Lord for His letting all of us come.”
President Nelson said he learned more about the inspiration once he arrived in Rome, where the senior Church leaders stood together for an iconic photograph taken in front of the statues of the Christus and the 12 ancient apostles by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The photograph became a symbol of their unified testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles compared President Nelson to a father who has “a great joy” that he wants to share with his children. President Nelson felt that “ ‘this is going to be an unforgettable experience and because I love you so much I don’t want to experience it without you.’ … We were overwhelmed that we could come. We were as much overwhelmed with the thought that he would want us to come.”
As I observed President Nelson I came to understand that he not only wants to share joy with his Brethren, but also with Latter-day Saints and others across the globe.
That’s what I know now that I didn’t know before the Rome temple dedication. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unifies all of us as one global family, sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents. I felt the power of unity as I watched President Nelson and three of his Brethren link arms outside the Papal City and as they spoke about their feelings of deep respect for Pope Francis. I felt it as I watched President Nelson greet his old friends from Italy or interact with his Brethren on the temple grounds.
In those sacred moments — and in so many moments of our own lives — the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is amplified by unity.
After sending His disciples into the world to teach the gospel, the Savior prayed for them and for those who would believe in Him because of His disciples’ words.
His prayer was a prayer of unity: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
From this prayer, the visual of four leaders linking arms in Italy, and a prophet that teaches unity by word and action, we learn how the gospel of Jesus Christ unites us with each other — and with our Savior.