ROME — Three decades ago, Elder Massimo De Feo, a General Authority Seventy, conducted his Italian branch's sacrament meetings in a garage. This week, he joined two Apostles who led tours for special guests at what he called the magnificent new Rome Italy Temple.
Verona Italy Stake President Andrea Cordani said he would be unable to describe it to his wife after he toured the temple on Jan. 13 to prepare to serve as a translator and host.
"I'll tell her, 'This is beyond anything we've imagined and thought that it would be.' Then I'll try to describe it," he said. "I don't think I can. We'll just count the days until Feb. 9," when she has tickets for the open house.
Nothing in the past 30 years has been easy, but Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counted the temple's completion, after seven years marked by delays, as a "marvelous miracle."
"It wasn't easy to build the Kirtland Temple," he said Monday, Jan. 14, at a news conference after hosting Rome city leaders at the temple. "There were unexpected delays and challenges. The same thing was true for the Nauvoo Temple. And the same thing was true for the Salt Lake Temple. So I think we just see a continuation. This is a fallen, mortal world. And there are just things that get in the way and don't work out the way we initially planned. I think the remarkable thing is that in spite of those challenges, as serious as some of them were, that this temple now, with this level of quality, and even with this timeline, is ready for dedication."
Elder Bednar and Ronald A. Rasband led tours for dignitaries, including a group of Catholic leaders from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, from Monday through Thursday ahead of the public open house, which will be held Jan. 28 through Feb. 16, excluding Sundays.
The Rome temple is the first built in a land where the ancient apostles preached. Elder Rasband felt a personal connection to Peter and Paul, who preached and are believed to have been martyred in Rome.
"The most moving personal aspect of this open house and future dedication is to think that … those early apostles, the conditions of their lives, the suffering, the imprisonment, the time that Peter and Paul came to Rome, most of it was spent in a dungeon, prison cell," he said. "And so for me to come here, it's humbling in the nth degree."
He said he had "a joyous feeling of gratitude to the Lord" to join in celebration with "these Italian saints, these members of the church who have struggled and traveled to Bern and other temples to have their temple experience.
"Now they have this exquisite, beautiful, magnificent temple, that will be a destination temple, not just for the Italian saints, but European Saints. Saints throughout the world are going to come to the Rome Italy Temple and not only experience the feelings of what used to be — those early apostles there in prison, the sacrifices, the crucifixions — to in humility, thank the Lord for where we are today."
Elder De Feo was grateful to share the temple with his fellow Italians.
"This is a bridge builder, a spiritual bridge toward other faiths," he said. "We have wonderful relationships with all faiths already here in the territory, because we have many projects, humanitarian projects, with others, including the Catholic Church, and now we will be even more visible. Our presence will be really weighed as a strong presence here. Everyone will know who we are. …
"I see a bright future for the church. And hopefully as we present who we are through the temple and keep being good disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, day after day, be good people, good citizens, they will see and they will join us."
The president of Rome's City Council said he was proud to be among the first to tour the temple.
"I bring the mayor’s greetings for this great building that makes our city more beautiful," Marcello De Vito said. "It’s a happy day for all those who believe that different people and religions can live together, who believe being able to communicate is the best way to keep peace among different religions, races and peoples."
He and other Italians were delighted by the use of familiar symbols, designs and plants in the construction and design of the temple and the temple grounds. Olive branches and an oval symbol created by Michelangelo in the 1500s are found on throughout the temple. The oval with a 12-pointed star is a design known to most Romans because it dominates the Piazza del Campidoglio outside Rome's city hall.
A peaceful marble plaza with fountains, Roman umbrella pines and 500-year-old olive trees sits in a square between the temple, the visitors' center, a meetinghouse and patron housing. Elder Rasband told journalists during a tour that the three-story, 40,000-square-foot temple is a "medium-sized temple." At 15 acres, the grounds, are 50 percent larger than Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
"We really wanted to make sure that we created an Italian piazza," architect Neils Valentiner said. "We had the four buildings that made it obvious that we could create that piazza. I think it is felt by all as being very Italian. We knew that was an important feature to create. We think now it is the Rome Temple Square. We have Salt Lake Temple Square. Now maybe we have Rome Temple Square."
Like Salt Lake, the Rome Temple Visitors' Center includes a replica of the Christus statue by Thorvaldsen. At night, the center beams in the dark, with the Christus flanked by the statues of 12 of Jesus Christ's ancient apostles.
The statue of Peter holds two keys in his right hand.
"Peter received from the Savior the keys of the kingdom," Elder Bednar said, "and there is a mantle associated with that ordination. The apostleship is never about the men. It is about the office and the mantle. I love to read about Peter and Paul and their ministries in the New Testament. And the mantle they bore, and that Elder Rasband and I have received, is real. For me, the bond with those ancient apostles is in the majesty and powers of the mantle and and in the spiritual witness of the reality of the Restoration in the latter days."