Clearly there is an excitement in the air, signifying that this is viewed as very important and significant by the Church.
That feeling was caught and felt on the gray Sunday morning people streamed to the temple grounds for the first dedication. Among them were Italian pioneers who had joined the Church when there were no other members in their town.
A group of young single adults came from Ukraine. Latter-day Saints showed up from Indonesia and Hong Kong. Of course, the Italians came who have worked with faith for this moment.
President and Sister Nelson arrived like bursts of sunshine to greet the Saints waiting outside the Temple for the dedicatory services.
Mission President Michael Pickerd and Sister Pickerd arrived with great anticipation.
At temple dedications, the prophet or apostle conducting the dedication arrives with great anticipation from the crowd who hope to get a close-up glimpse of him.
Scores of volunteers do the humble work of placing little booties over each person’s shoes before they enter the Temple.
Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci, the Area Authority Seventy, said, “This temple is a gift, but I think the faith of the members has contributed to earning this gift. Italians are family history lovers and temple workers. Over 70% of the work being done in the Swiss temple in Bern was done by Italian patrons.”
For the first session it was President Russell M. Nelson and President M. Russell Ballard. Then shortly after the first session began at 9:00, they emerged in white clothing with their wives and the new temple presidency for the cornerstone ceremony while the choir sang.
President M. Russell Ballard warmly greets the crowd as he comes out of the Temple for the cornerstone (or coverstone) ceremony.
This choir sang with wonderful unity and precision and invited the Spirit to be with all in attendance.
President Nelson was so pleased with the choir he raised his hands in the air and clapped enthusiastically in appreciation.
President Nelson said, “Now we will proceed to finish the work of the temple. We’ll put some cement in the cracks.” Then he laughed, “To be honest with you, they will have to erase what we’ve done and do it all over again.”
Behind a line some children were watching, hoping the prophet would notice them—and he did. He invited some boys and girls to come up and put some cement in the joint.
Jacob Olmo, whose parents are living in Rome while his father works in the embassy, was among those chosen. “It felt awesome,” he said. “I will always remember this.”
Inside, President Nelson remembered Peter and Paul in the dedicatory prayer. He said, “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. May the influence of their abiding testimony of Jesus Christ continue to be felt among the vital values of this great country.
He prayed, “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. Wilt thou bless them for their kindness and fortify their continued desire to preserve religious liberty for all.”
Latter-day Saints connected with each other on the temple grounds between sessions. It seemed everybody had a special reason for being here.
For Rhonda Cook, it was the first time she had been back in Italy since she had served here as a missionary in 1973. Her husband was also serving here as a young missionary at the same time. “When we were serving here,” she said, “we didn’t dream that someday a temple would be here. We met with members in missionary apartments or rented buildings that had crayon on the walls. But I decided years ago, that when a temple was dedicated here that I would come back. When we applied for tickets and got the envelope saying we had been accepted to come to the dedication, it was like opening my mission call all over again. I was that excited.” She and her first convert were attending a session together. They hadn’t seen each other for 45 years.
J.D. Payne (not shown here) is another former missionary who served his mission from 2000 to 2002, and today is a screen writer. “When we first came here, our mission president brought us all to this piece of land which then was just a small villa with some olive trees. He asked us all to go off and kneel down in the vineyard and have a spiritual experience to get a sense of what the Lord was going to do here someday. So, as a young 19-year-old man, I knelt down and this day was foreseen. Our entire mission we worked knowing that having a temple was the goal and trying to strengthen the members and help the Church to grow. Twenty years later, here we are.
Charlotte Valentiner, whose husband Niels, was the architect of the temple, said, “When the temple was being postponed and postponed, we thought, “I guess the Lord is not ready for this to be done. The Lord is building people, not just temples.”
Bruce and Colleen Dibb presided over the Milan mission from 2013 to 2016 and were pleased to see how much of the missionary work was done by members—because now there are third and fourth generations in the Church. When they first arrived to serve there, the missionary age had just changed and they had 250 missionaries to shepherd.
Bruce said, “As a church we’ve been in Italy 52 years, and it took about 50 years for Italy to have all stakes and no districts. But in the area where we served, they are adding about a ward a year, so it will be a much shorter time to double the number of stakes. Now with the temple here, it will be a great missionary opportunity.
The Dibbs, and several other former mission presidents held mission reunions over the weekend of dedication in the Rome area. President and Sister Pickerd on the left and Elder Craig and Sister Debbie Cardon, formerly of the Seventy.
Virginia Hinckley Pearce, daughter of Gordon and Marjorie Hinckley, was in attendance. By her nature she said, “I just feel like I need to jump in and help here. I need to be doing something.”
Gayle and Tom Holdman, who did the art glass of this Temple, rejoiced today in its completion.
Elder Travis Wagstaff of Holladay, Utah said: “We are seeing a lot of success on the streets and a lot of people are wanting to come closer to their Savior through this sacred temple. One district of 8 missionaries has received 177 referrals—which is unheard of in this part of the world. We’ve definitely received more work that we know what to do with. That’s a good problem to have!”
Elder James Huntsman of Houston, Texas said, “The missionary work is booming right now. The temple has created a lot of opportunities for service. The Italians are a naturally curious people and when they see this big, beautiful, new building in their neighborhood, they have a lot of questions. They wonder what it is and why it’s here and that’s a great opportunity for us to answer those questions and to share the gospel to this people who need it.”
Hanno Luschin, who has worked on a number of Temples for the Church, was also in attendance. His father used to serve as the Temple President of the Swiss Temple, that included Rome in its district.
Giovanni DiCarolo was the first president of the Puglio Stake. He felt terribly inadequate for that calling and wondered how he could do it, especially since he did not have a car because his family had been under financial duress. His miracle story will be in another issue of Meridian.
Vincenzo Conforte was put in a monastery at age 12 to study to become a monk, he had no idea that someday he would be a Regional Representative and twice a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His story will be featured in a future article in Meridian.
Albania is in the Rome temple district and many Latter-day Saints came from Albania for the temple dedication. Medir Mema is the stake president. He grew up in the country when it was officially atheistic, but he became interested in religion looking at the paintings of Rembrandt, which were allowed. We’ll be telling more about his story in a future issue of Meridian.
Nuri and Iliano Fifo are a foundation family in Albania. He has just been called last week as a new stake patriarch.
Elder Dini Ciacci said, “having the temple is a boost of faith for the members. It will be so much easier for them to get to a temple.”
“They spend a lot of time and money to go to the temple every year. They take their only vacation time.”
“All these years of being members and serving in the Swiss temple, and keeping the commandments and being a member against all odds has contributed to having a temple here.”
Elder Dini Ciacci added, “We are obviously happy beyond description for what we see here with the temple. But my family and I go church in a very small apartment building. It is a remodeled place. We have a ward of about 90 active members. Yet, when we walk into that building we feel the Spirit.”
“We are happy for what is happening here, but we are happy to know that wherever we go in the Church, there is the same Spirit. There is no doubt this is the Lord’s church.”
He said, “We have all been given a gift. Now we have to prove ourselves continually worthy of this gift. I think what it will mean for us as members of the Church in Italy is an increased presence in the temple. Our ancestors, billions of them, have been waiting for this moment.”
Elder Dini Ciacci said, “I strongly believe that we will see great things come of this temple. “
“I don’t know the magnitude of it or how small or big it will be. I just agree that there is so much more to come that we will stand in awe and wonder how this is possible.”
“The Lord would not build a temple unless it was to bless people’s lives. He is preaching his gospel again in Rome, where He sent his first early apostles.”
“I’m sure he’s expecting us to participate in the shedding of blessings upon the Italian people through this temple.”