A historic first: All 15 top Latter-day Saint leaders will be in Rome for temple dedication this weekend

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Rome Italy Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

With more than 200 temples open or in the works around the world, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has seen dedications of these edifices become fairly routine.

But this weekend’s dedication of the Rome Temple — in the cradle of Catholicism — will be no routine event.

For evidence, witness that the Utah-based faith’s entire governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be in the Eternal City for the ceremonies. It is believed to be the first time in Mormon history that all 15 leaders will be in one location outside the United States.

The delegation, announced Friday in a news release, will be led by church President Russell M. Nelson, who will dedicate the temple Sunday. Dedication services will continue through Tuesday.

None of the faith’s high-ranking female officers will be at the Rome events, according to church spokesman Daniel Woodruff, though wives of First Presidency members, apostles, and other general authorities will be in attendance.

The three-story, 40,000-square-foot temple in northeast Rome is garnering this attention, explained apostle David A. Bednar, because of the Italian city’s rich religious history. Biblical apostles Peter and Paul preached there.

Of course, with the Vatican not all that far away, Rome is also the heart of the largest Christian denomination. There are more than a billion Catholics around the world.

Mormonism is also a global faith — albeit much, much smaller.

“We have more than 16 million members and the church is recognized and established in over 170 nations, so it’s only a matter of time before we have temples in most major cities in the world,” Bednar said in the release. “But it is of particular significance to have a temple in Rome.”

The LDS Church partners with Catholic charities around the globe, teaming up with Catholic leaders on religious liberty and other issues. It does so despite the two faiths’ significant doctrinal differences.

That theological gap is so wide, in fact, that the Vatican does not officially recognize the Salt Lake City-headquartered church as Christian.

Crux, an independent online purveyor of Catholic news, pointed to Latter-day Saints’ rejection of the Trinity and original sin as among the reasons for the Vatican’s stance.

“Catholics who marry a Mormon are supposed to follow the same process as marrying a non-Christian,” Crux noted, “and likewise, Mormons who wish to enter the Catholic Church must go through the formal process for non-Christians.”

General authority Seventy Massimo De Feo, an native Italian, said Latter-day Saints “needed to have a temple in the Eternal City because it is a symbol of eternity. The temple is the place we learn that life is eternal.”

In an introduction to a new virtual tour of the Rome Temple, the 94-year-old Nelson, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by Latter-day Saints, noted that “each temple is a holy sanctuary in which sacred ceremonies and ordinances of the gospel are performed by and for the living and also in behalf of the dead.”

The Rome Temple already has greeted thousands of visitors during public tours from Jan. 28 through Feb. 16.

The showcase structure is reminiscent of ancient Italian architecture. Inspired by San Carlino, a historic Catholic church in Rome, it boasts curved ceilings, curved walls and hints of colonnades and columns.

“This had to be one that when you walked onto this site, every person should feel like they were on an Italian site,” architect Niels Valentiner said in January. “They would recognize it because of the materials, because of the design, and because of the surrounding[s].”

The temple’s entrance features a floor-to-ceiling stained-glass wall depicting a scene from Christ’s life, with original paintings throughout the building and a grand staircase in the lobby.

“It’s connected just at the top and the bottom,” project supervisor Bret Woods explained, “so it’s essentially a free-floating staircase — and, of course, an elliptical shape.” The oval design harks to Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio near Capitoline Hill in Rome.

The temple’s 15-acre campus includes a church meetinghouse, a visitors’ center, a family history center, a piazza and guest housing.

This temple took more than a decade to bring to fruition. It was announced in 2008 and construction began two years later. Work eventually stalled for a stretch, so much so that Italian Latter-day Saints held a daylong fast in January 2015 in seeking heaven’s help to get the project back on track.

All those years of fasting and praying, waiting and wondering finally have concluded with the coming days’ historic events.

Latter-day Saints view temples as houses of God, places where devout members can participate in their faith’s most hallowed rites, including eternal marriage.

After the coming dedication, eternal marriages now will be solemnized in the Eternal City.

Reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.