A little over a month ago, President Russell M. Nelson revealed he was instructed by the Lord to take the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to Rome for the Rome Italy Temple dedication.
He also charged the apostles to speak about the dedication of the Rome temple as they travel throughout the world.
In an April 28 evening devotional at BYU–Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, fulfilled that charge, speaking to the students about their experiences in Rome.
Their experiences in Rome actually began in January, well before the March 10 dedication, when they, along with Elder David A. Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, were assigned to go to the city in advance for a news conference, media open house and tours with dignitaries.
In preparing for that assignment, Elder and Sister Rasband thought back of an earlier time. “We realized that when we were just a little bit older than you — newly married, living in Sandy, Utah, and raising our children — the Church dedicated the 20th temple — the Jordan River (Utah) Temple in the Salt Lake Valley,” Elder Rasband said.
“In our lifetime, with the Rome Italy Temple and the recently dedicated Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple, the Church is now at 163 temples. That is an increase of 143 — and President Nelson just announced eight more.”
One of the first tours they led was a delegation from the Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican.
“You can imagine, I was a little concerned about how the Catholic Church would welcome The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and our temple to Rome,” Elder Rasband said. “Well, we learned quickly that they brought love and best wishes.”
One of the Catholic Church leaders asked Elder Rasband to keep the temple tour based on the scriptures. Elder Rasband knew that this is what he had prepared for and asked Heavenly Father for His help in this tour.
For instance, Elder Rasband felt inspired to tell this delegation that the temple in Rome as well as all the Church’s temples did not originate with the Latter-day Saints. After mentioning the temple of Solomon and Herod’s temple, he explained that in the Book of Mormon, “the people in the Americas also built temples. A prophet named Nephi had a temple, as did King Benjamin, and the Savior appeared after His resurrection at one of their temple sites.”
The tour included explaining how temples are built with the finest of materials, the scriptural basis for baptism for the dead and purpose of the sealing rooms. In the sealing room, “Sister Rasband and I took turns bearing our testimonies that the temple is the great symbol of our membership in our Church and everything in the temple culminates in eternal marriage and the creation of eternal families,” he said.
Elder Stevenson also recalled a sacred moment he had with a Jesuit priest in the Rome temple sealing room.
Elder Bednar and Elder Rasband made two videos while in Rome — one of a virtual tour of the Rome Italy Temple, and the other of the two apostles bearing testimony of Christ while standing outside the Mamertine Prison. These videos were posted in a BYU-Idaho discussion board before the devotional, with students invited to share them with their friends.
“Think of someone you can do a little missionary work with using one or both of these videos,” Elder Rasband said.
Returning to the March events in Rome, he described how President Nelson met with Pope Francis, how he and Sister Rasband worked with the sister missionaries in the visitors’ center, and the seven “beautiful” dedicatory sessions of the temple.
Before leaving Rome, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gathered in front of the Thorvaldsen statues in their white suits for a photo. “This show of unity, my dear brothers and sisters, is perhaps my second most favorite picture,” Elder Rasband said.
His most favorite photo was an unprompted one.
“When Melanie and I arrived in Rome, we saw President Nelson and he greeted me warmly,” Elder Rasband said. He didn’t realize a Church photographer had captured that moment.
“I will always treasure the pure joy that is on President Nelson’s face.”
Ever since President Nelson announced the new First Presidency a little over 15 months ago, his focus has been with the end in mind — “meaning, the temple and the endowment,” Elder Rasband explained.
“If you have been paying attention to the revelations, moves, changes, new directives from The First Presidency and the Twelve, you know the covenant path that leads through the temple is what our worship is all about.
“To the degree you include the temple in some form in your daily lives, the stronger you and your testimonies will be.”
While in Rome, Sister Rasband wondered what made this city so special. “What was this I was feeling?” she asked.
She described the joy of the Italians to have a temple in their own country, the symbol of the oval, which represents eternity, depicted in the temple; the 500-year-old olive trees and the fountain in the piazza, the latter symbolizing Christ’s living water; and in the visitors’ center, the replicas of Thorvaldsen’s statues of Christ and the original twelve apostles, and the curved art-glass mural depicting the Savior’s life, miracles and parables.
Sister Rasband described the love she felt as she and the other wives of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were photographed in front of the Rome Italy Temple, as well as the “magnificent moment” as their husbands posed for a photo before the Thorvaldsen statues.
In that moment, “we were deeply humbled honoring these faithful brethren (who) we love in their divinely appointed roles as prophets, seers and revelators — beside their predecessors.”
In answer to her original question, she said, “All of these things contributed to the powerful spirit of being at the Rome temple because they all bore witness that Jesus is the Christ.”
Sister Rasband added her own testimony that “Jesus is the Christ, that this is His true gospel, that we are on His errand in serving Him in declaring to the world that His gospel has been restored.”
Elder Rasband said that after having been in Rome, “having been in this eternal temple, having been with God’s prophet on the earth and my brethren of The First Presidency and Twelve Apostles, we came away more united than ever to go forward as witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world; to bear our testimonies that the keys of the Lord Jesus Christ that He did give to Peter and the apostles of that day are on the earth today.”