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Still, the temple announcement had a big impact.
"Baptisms increased even as the number of missionaries decreased," he says."It gave the missionaries an added push in excitement."
Italy’s Mormons by the numbers
24,443 » Members
98 » Congregations
49 » Family history centers
2 » Missions
The American-born faith has been especially attractive to a large number of immigrants, especially those from South America. They seem to be filling up pews in LDS chapels such as the one that houses the Rome Second Ward. Most members take public transportation to the area, but cars are packed in tightly on the streets surrounding the meetinghouse. The chapel is overflowing, with the speakers piped in to an upstairs classroom and believers leaning in through patio windows.
Serving in Italy is definitely "as hard as you think," says Mary Celeste Lewis, a Mormon missionary from Morgan, after a service in Rome. "But these are the most amazingly strong people I’ve ever seen; they deserve their own temple."
Indeed, Italian Mormons have been avid templegoers for years, taking time off from work to travel to Switzerland, Acerson says. "Some 80 percent of temple work done in the Swiss temple was done by Italians."
And young LDS couples seem to be leading the way.
"They were taught in their youth, embraced it," says Acerson, who lives in Lindon and teaches leadership at Utah Valley University, "and now form a strong foundation for the church going forward."
Alessandro Dini Ciacci was very religious, an altar boy who went to Catholic school and loved it. He learned "great principles and met great people," he says. "But when Mormon missionaries came, I started wondering about lots of things."
He read the signature LDS scripture, the Book of Mormon, he says, "in order to refute it."
After about eight months, Dini Ciacci joined and later was called to the Athens, Greece, mission, where he met his future wife, Sara Squarcia, a third-generation Mormon, whose mother also served a mission. They’ve been married for six years and have two children and another on the way.
"When the temple comes," Dini Ciacci says, "it will be our weekly date night."
Daniele and Norma Salerno are second-generation Mormons who met at church young-adult activities. The couple were "sealed" for eternity in the Swiss temple, immediately after being married in an Italian public wedding.
When the Rome temple opens sometime in the second half of 2014, the husband and wife plan to attend often to participate in sacred ceremonies.
"Now we won’t have that long journey," Norma Salerno says. "We really think, as a family, we will be blessed to go each week. We want our children to love the atmosphere of the temple grounds."
Having a temple close by is "the dream of the dreams," DeFeo says, "both to practice temple work more easily for all members from all over Italy, but also as a missionary tool to let the church come out of obscurity."
He added: "It will greatly improve the image of the church among the people of Italy — not only the image in Rome but Europewide."
That, he says, is "true happiness."
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