Rome may be the capital of Catholicism, but, for four days, it’s also the center of Mormonism.
On Saturday, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had an audience with Pope Francis, the first-ever meeting between a top Mormon prophet and a Catholic pontiff.
On Sunday, Nelson dedicated his church’s first temple in Rome. Those dedication services continue through Tuesday.
The events in Italy are so significant to the Utah-based faith that all of its top authorities — the three-member governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — are gathered in the Eternal City. It is believed to be the first time in Latter-day Saint history that all 15 leaders have been in the same place at the same time on foreign soil.
They marked the occasion with a group photograph in front of a life-size statue of the Christus, a replica of sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s iconic work, at the Rome Temple visitors’ center.
In the background are scaled statues of the ancient apostles — carved out of Carrara marble from the same quarry in Tuscany that gave shape to Michelangelo’s David. They also were pictured outside on the temple grounds.
“I love these brethren with whom I serve,” apostle David A. Bednar said in a news release. "We are together each week in the Salt Lake Temple, on many other occasions, but today, to be in Rome, to be here for this, and to be all together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will always remember.”
Monday’s release noted that this is the first group photo taken of all 15 top Latter-day Saint leaders in two decades.
“The Lord is pleased” to have all these church authorities in Rome, Nelson said. "He wanted it done that way. It will be a blessing for the people all over the world. Because these apostles now will go all over the world and recount the experiences that they have felt here as this holy house was dedicated.”
The 94-year-old Nelson, whom members revere as a “prophet, seer and revelator," predicted that the church, founded 189 years ago, will advance at an “accelerated pace."
“It’s only the beginning,” he said. "Just project out what the next future will be and the church is going to have an unprecedented future. Unparalleled. We’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”
Fellow apostle Neil L. Andersen lauded Nelson’s leadership.
“There could not be a more gracious, kind, thoughtful man," he said. "What a beautiful time in the history of the church to have a man ... skilled in the intellect and given such beautiful spiritual gifts — almost as if he has one foot in another world and one foot in this world.”
The wives of most of these officials were in Rome, too. However, no high-ranking female church officers were present for the ceremonies.