ROME — With both the past and future of Italy on his mind in 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow walked to a riverside in northeast Italy, performed the first baptism in the country, and “opened a door which no man can shut.”
“The work here is slow and tedious,” he wrote in a record of the Italian Mission published in 1851. “Nevertheless, the Church has been established. The tree has been planted and is spreading its roots.”
Nearly 170 years later, the deep Italian roots of the gospel are clearly evident on the grounds of the Rome Italy Temple.
President Russell M. Nelson dedicated the temple, located in one of the most influential cities in the history of the world and in the history of Christianity, on Sunday, March 10.
Built in the land where ancient Apostles Peter and Paul preached and died, the temple is the Church’s first in Italy and 162nd worldwide.
“In this ancient and great city that has stood since biblical times — in this historic nation of Italy — we acknowledge the ministry of two of Thy Son’s early Apostles, Peter and Paul, who once blessed this land with their labors,” said President Nelson in the dedicatory prayer. “May the influence of their abiding testimony of Jesus Christ continue to be felt among the vital values of this great country.”
Located in northeast Rome near the village of La Cinquina Bufalotta, the temple was announced by President Thomas S. Monson in October 2008. The news was met with awe and thanksgiving by members of the Church in Italy and thousands of others throughout the world who have been waiting for almost a decade for its completion and dedication.
“The Rome story has been a long story,” said Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé. “We were expecting this to be faster. But sometimes to have a long process is to have an opportunity to learn and to experience the miracles of the Lord.
“I think there are few projects that have had more miracles than this one. We can see the hand of the Lord in the fact that there is such a beautiful temple in Rome today.”
With architecture inspired by ancient Rome, the temple is part of a 15-acre piazza that includes a meetinghouse, a visitors’ center, a family history center and temple patron housing.
The three-story, 40,000-square-foot temple will serve more than 27,000 Church members living in Italy and in neighboring countries.
At the temple’s entrance, a floor-to-ceiling stained-glass wall depicts a scene from the life of the Savior Jesus Christ. Stained-glass windows are inspired by the olive tree.
“We are grateful for the support of church, government and civic leaders who have offered much-appreciated goodwill in our desire to build this holy temple here in Rome,” President Nelson said in the dedicatory prayer. “Wilt Thou bless them for their kindness and fortify their continued desire to preserve religious liberty for all.”
Crowds gathered on the temple grounds to watch President Nelson symbolically complete the temple by adding mortar to the temple cornerstone, a public part outside the building early in the first dedicatory session.
He was joined by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson; President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Bishop Caussé.
President Nelson greeted the crowd and media members and thanked the choir for their music. He then invited five children — Jacob Olmo, age 9; Luke Olmo, 6; and Emma Salerno, 7; Scott Cordani, 5; and Elena Malara, 7 — to participate.
“It was amazing,” said Jacob’s and Luke’s mother, Stephanie Olmo. “It was tender to see them meet a prophet of God.”
Inside the cornerstone, the local temple committee placed, among other items, the scriptures, a hymn book, a history of the Church in the area, and the dedicatory prayer.
Perceptions of the Church
Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci, an Area Seventy and chairman of the local temple open house and dedication committee, said the temple — which was toured by 52,000 people during the public open house — is changing the way Italians perceive the Church.
“In the past when we told our friends or strangers that we were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we usually had to explain what that meant,” said Elder Dini Ciacci. “Now they are all aware of what this means. They have a lot of questions for us. There has been heightened interest in who we are and what we do.”
Elder Dini Ciacci joined the Church at age 18, entering the waters of baptism in a portable font in an apartment building. “It is indeed a miracle, a dream come true,” he said, pointing to the stake center located on the Rome temple piazza. “We have buildings like this all over Italy now.”
Members have “always felt this urgency to be good examples and share the gospel,” he said. Now, however, members are not afraid to share the gospel. “Now being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy is something you … want to share.”
Sister Sara Dini Ciacci grew up attending the Bern Switzerland Temple. “For us it was important. We did it with pleasure,” she said.
Cristiana Deni Spinelli worked at the mission home for many years before meeting her husband, Silvio Daniel Spinelli.
As a child and young adult, she spent many hours on the Rome Italy Temple grounds, where local Latter-day Saints met, made pizza and played games. The temple on the site, she said, is a miracle. “Every single member, small or big, old or young, contributed to this miracle now.”
Elder Dini Ciacci said some members in Rome may view the new temple “as the arrival point.” “I hope that the temple in Rome to the Italian Saints will mean the Lord has seen our faith and He wants us to increase our service in the temple.”
When the temple was announced in the October 2008 general conference, Sister Dini Ciacci thought she had misunderstood. She turned to look at the other members but instead saw two missionaries jumping on their chairs in excitement.
Elder Dini Ciacci was translating for general conference when he heard the news. “I wanted to shout for joy, but I could not,” he said. “I will never forget that moment.”
Neither will Elder Massimo De Feo, a General Authority Seventy — the first from Italy, called in April 2016 — and currently a member of the Europe Area presidency.
“We had no idea the prophet would announce a temple in general conference,” said Elder De Feo. “When we heard … we jumped all over the place and we shouted in joy. I remember we actually stopped watching general conference. We were just hugging each other. It was a day of rejoicing. … This was a dream. The dream then became a vision of faith.”
Elder De Feo joined the Church in 1971 at age 10. During his lifetime, he has watched the Church in Italy grow from a handful of members to more than 27,000 today. “With a temple, we believe the Church will grow even more,” he said. “People all around us will look at the magnificent temple. They will see it is a light in the darkness.”
The completion of the temple will be a “turning point” for the growth of the Church in Italy, he said.
“This temple is a symbol of the growth of the Church in all of Europe,” added Bishop Caussé. “It is a sign of the gospel settling here in Europe and touching more and more hearts across this beautiful continent.”
The sono d’oro — the golden dream
Scott Dunaway served as a missionary in the Italy Rome in the mid-1970s and was president of the Italy Milan Mission when President Thomas S. Monson announced on Oct. 4, 2008, plans to build a temple in Rome.
“We were just elated to hear the news,” he said. “It had been a dream for anyone who had served in Italy and loved the people and the work and was anxious to see the Church grow there.”
Dunaway returned to Rome with his wife, Ruth, to attend the temple dedication.
“We have been thrilled to see a temple in Rome. All who have been involved in the work of the Church in Italy will see the hand of the Lord in this temple coming to fruition….
“When I was a young missionary it was hard to imagine we would have stakes, let alone a temple.”
James Lund served as a young missionary in the Italy Padova Mission in the early 1980s. “Very few envisioned there would be a temple in Italy. It was the sono d’oro — the golden dream.”
Now several generations after he served there, he sees how the Church has “come out of its fledgling standing” and is taking root, just as was prophesied by Elder Lorenzo Snow 170 years ago on the day the first member joined the Church in Italy.
Gerry Avant contributed to this report.