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Ramon Lopez, with his family, recently moved to Rome from Spain to work as an engineer on the Rome temple project. Courtesy Mike Stack
When in Rome … you’ll soon see a Mormon temple
LDS » Italian saints count it as a blessing — other church members view it as a milestone.
First Published May 24 2012 10:38 am • Last Updated Aug 28 2012 11:36 pm

Rome » Daniele Salerno was in the bathroom and missed LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson’s 2008 announcement that a temple would be built in his city: Rome.

What Salerno did hear was a communal "whoa," followed by cheering and shouting coming from the chapel, hardly the typical response from Mormons viewing LDS General Conference on a big screen.

At a glance

Italy’s Mormons by the numbers

24,443 » Members

98 » Congregations

49 » Family history centers

2 » Missions

Source: lds.org

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When he emerged into the hallway, Salerno saw fellow Latter-day Saints hugging, crying, clapping and celebrating — as if their soccer team had just won the World Cup.

That moment became pivotal in the young father’s life.

Growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salerno had always heard Italian Mormons say that one day they would have a temple in their midst. Now the Telecom Italian sales consultant drives by the temple site, an hour or so outside Rome’s center, on his way to work every day. The sight of that sacred structure emerging "brick by brick" makes him want to be growing spiritually at least as fast.

"The Lord is blessing us as a community," Salerno says. "It is an increasing challenge to be a light to our neighbors, friends and family."

News of a Mormon temple in Rome also brought a rumble of approval in the giant LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on that October day 3 1/2 years ago.

More than practically any other place, planting a temple in the Eternal City, not far from the seat of Catholicism, carried a symbolic significance for the Utah-based faith. It seemed to say: Mormons have arrived on the world stage and are here to stay.

Long time coming » Mormons landed in the boot-shaped country as early as 1850, when then-apostle Lorenzo Snow and two companions dedicated the place for LDS preaching. The trio even renamed the city La Tour as Mount Brigham, according to the 2012 Church Almanac. Most of the early converts emigrated to Utah, so the Mormon presence there disappeared until after World War II, nearly a century later.

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The first LDS stake (a cluster of congregations) was formed in Milan in June 1981, and several others followed in that decade. By 1993, the Italian government formally had recognized the church as a legal entity, allowing it to buy property.

Mormons in Italy, who now number nearly 25,000 in almost 100 congregations, making up seven stakes, have an excellent relationship with the government, says Rome Stake President Massimo DeFeo.

Though most of the country’s recognized churches get some government support through their members’ taxes, the LDS Church does not.

"Part of the agreement ready to be signed between Italy and the LDS Church includes a refusal by the LDS Church to accept tax money," DeFeo writes in an email. "It is now a matter of a short time to sign the final agreement."

Though the process to gain all the approvals for the temple was lengthy, it went more smoothly than expected, he says. "We were able to obtain the permission due to the hard work with contacts at the city administration level."

The church had owned the site for a decade or more, but to build there, it had to ensure no ruins were buried there. While crews dug for bones of buildings, the Mormons fasted.

In the end, some ruins were found within 200 yards of the site, but not within it. The project moved forward.

"It was amazing," says Jeff Acerson, LDS Rome mission president from 2007 to 2010. "You would think there would have been more obstacles."

It seemed, well, almost miraculous.

Among the Catholics » Mormon officials believe their temple will enhance Rome’s reputation as a cosmopolitan city that accepts a bounty of faiths.

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