A Mormon Temple in Rome

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ROME—The eyes of the world were on St. Peter’s Square in mid-March as the Roman Catholic Church installed Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as Pope Francis. But just a few miles away from the Vatican, Italians were building a tribute to a different Christian sect.

Italy, known for its strong Catholic presence, is also home to nearly 25,000 Mormons. And just eight miles northeast of the Vatican, across the road from one of the largest shopping centers in Rome, a Mormon temple is being built—the first in the city, the first in Italy, and the first in the Mediterranean region.

Italian Mormons now gather at numerous chapels for Sunday worship, but a temple is something different. “It’s literally heaven on Earth,” said Clay Lacey, a 20-year-old Mormon from California.

Like many Mormons his age, Lacey is a missionary, and he has been in Italy for almost two years. He said that according to Mormon belief, a temple is a link between Earth and the afterlife. “The whole point of the Temples is to seal us for eternity with our families, to really connect us, because one thing that’s inevitable in life, is death,” he said. “The temple kind of gives us an eternal perspective of things.”

The first Mormon temple in the Mediterranean region is being built just 8 miles from the Vatican.

The first Mormon temple in the Mediterranean region is being built just eight miles from the Vatican.
Jeff Tyson / Religio.

The Mormon temple in Rome will be the twelfth in Europe. It will join the one in Bern Switzerland, Frankfurt, Germany, and The Hague, Netherlands, among others. It will be 40,000 square feet, with an exterior of white granite. Right now, slabs of the granite stone are being attached to a still rising frame.

When it’s done, Lacey said, he hopes the temple will clear up confusion Italians have about his faith. “There are a lot of wrong ideas that Italians have about our church. They think the Mormons run around with long beards, and still live, you know, back in the 1600s, or the 1700s,” he said.

There have been Mormons in Italy since the 1850s, but due to local opposition, proselytizing came to a halt by the 1860s. In 1900, church leaders endeavored to resume missionary work, but they were denied by the Italian government. In 1951, the Church was re-established in Italy, and Italian Mormons abroad began moving home. But the ban on proselytizing lasted another 14 years. In 1965, church records indicated about 230 members in Italy, and Elder Ezra Taft Benson, who would later become the 13th president of the Church, successfully petitioned the government to resume missionary work. Most recently, in July of 2012, the Italian government recognized Mormonism as an official religion. This means that Mormon clergy can preside over civilly recognized marriages, and that clergy have access to state prisons, hospitals, and military barracks. It also means the Mormon Church is entitled to accept a percentage of tax money, as the Catholic Church does. But this entitlement was refused, since the Mormon Church already relies on a tithe from its members, and prides itself on being self-sustaining in this way.

For Italian Mormons like Alessandro Dini Ciacci, the new Temple is a milestone. “To me, as a Mormon living in Rome, this is a dream come true,” said Ciacci, a spokesman for the Mormon Church in Italy.

Ciacci was raised in a Catholic family in the south of Italy and converted to Mormonism when he was 18. He said that right now, to worship in a Temple, he has to drive or fly to the nearest one—in Bern, Switzerland.

“Having a Temple here, close by, it means that if I’m feeling down, if I need answers, if I just want to go worship my lord, or perform ordinances for my family or my ancestors, I can just drive there in less than an hour,” he said.

And the city of Rome has a deep religious significance to Mormons, who adhere to the Bible, as well as to the Book of Mormon.

“How can you imagine the Church of Jesus Christ without having the Temple in the city where Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter, they came to preach the Gospel in the early days?” asked Raimondo Castellani, another official of the church in Italy.

Castellani hopes the new temple will become a destination for each tourist coming to Rome.

Fausto D’Apuzzo, a 26-year-old Italian who grew up Mormon, agrees that a temple in Rome is significant. Since he was 12, he would take a bus every summer to the temple in Bern—a trip that took 15 hours. He said a new temple near the center of Catholicism will be a point of pride for Mormons.

“Strong Italian Catholics sometimes are not very open to other religions,” he said. “And maybe there will be rumors about some bad things happening in the temple, but I’m hoping that most of the people will actually get to know the truth, what we are, and what we do.”

D’Apuzzo said that he could talk about his church forever. He said that’s because the church has always been the center of his life. “I think the strongest feelings of joy I had are somehow linked to my friends in the church and my experiences growing up as a Mormon boy,” he said. “I cannot imagine my life any different way.”

With a smile, D’Apuzzo later joked that he and his Canadian girlfriend could be the first couple to get married in the new temple when it is completed in 2014.

 

 

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