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In the shadow of St. Peter’s, a Mormon temple rises

A gold-leaf statue depicting the ancient Mormon prophet, Moroni, is prepared for placement on one of the spires of the new Mormon temple in Rome on March 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Claudio Falanga/Intellectual Reserve Inc.

ROME (RNS) In a tiny chapel just a few miles from the Vatican, 40 young men and women have put on their best clothes and gathered to worship Jesus.

In the simple wood-paneled room, the congregation begins singing hymns and sharing personal testimonies.

But in a country where nearly 90 percent of people consider themselves Catholic, these young Italian worshippers are not; they’re Mormons, and they are adding to the religious mix.

Michela Banchini. RNS photo by Josephine McKenna

Mormons in Rome say they encounter no prejudice — simply curiosity from their friends.

“This is something I love. I don’t see it as a sacrifice,” says Michela Banchini, a 22-year-old university student. “We have a different way of living our lives.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an estimated 26,000 members in Italy, with the biggest missions based in Milan and Rome.  The church’s outreach is extensive, with more than 100 congregations reaching as far as the Swiss border in the north and to Sardinia and Sicily in the south. Church leaders say the faithful are represented in almost every major city.

Despite the predominance of the Catholic Church, particularly in Rome, Mormons are looking to the future with the opening of a new temple and visitors center that church elders hope will draw more converts.

“There’s a lot of excitement right now because of the new temple,” says Alessandro Dini Ciacci, the church’s representative in Italy. “There are a lot of requests for information and many are deciding to join the church.”

The 40,000-square-foot temple with two spires is being constructed northeast of central Rome just inside the beltway that encircles the Italian capital.

A crane moves a statue of the ancient Mormon prophet, Moroni, into position atop the new Mormon temple in Rome on March 25, 2017. Screenshot from video by Intellectual Reserve Inc.

It will be the centerpiece of a 15-acre complex that includes a family history center, a visitors welcome center and lodging for pilgrims traveling from out of town.

The site gained worldwide attention in March when a gold-leaf statue depicting the ancient Mormon prophet, Moroni, was placed atop one of the two spires.

The statue weighs 450 pounds and when a crane lifted it to the top of the temple it signified its presence while an official opening is still a ways away. No official opening date has been announced.

Church officials say the best construction materials, including Italian granite, were used in building the complex, which has been financed by tithes from around the world.

The visitors center will also house marble replicas of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statues of Jesus and the Apostles. The internationally known 19th-century sculptor spent most of his life in Italy.

The Rome temple will give Mormons a long-awaited spiritual home where they can come together to worship in Italy for the first time.

“Building a temple in Rome is a major sign of growth of the church in Italy and members are looking forward to that,” said Dini Ciacci, a 39-year-old father of four.

“Right now Italians go to the temple in Bern (in Switzerland) for baptisms and marriages, and it’s quite a trip.”

A digital rendering of the new Mormon temple campus in Rome. Image courtesy of Intellectual Reserve Inc.

The LDS has donated a mobile kitchen to the Italian Red Cross to help refugees and earthquake survivors in central Italy and a mobile clinic that works with the homeless. The church is also expanding elsewhere in Europe.

“We just dedicated our 12th temple in Europe in Paris in April and another is under construction in Portugal,” said Dini Ciacci.

Dini Ciacci hopes the Rome temple will attract a lot of new interest from members while attracting newcomers despite the commitment required by the LDS.

“We require a lot from our members,” he said. “We expect them to be in church for three hours every Sunday and to give 10 percent of their income to the church.

“We expect them not to drink or smoke, to abstain from sexual relations before marriage and to live a healthy life. I think it’s a miracle that so many people are willing to abide by these rules.”

Claudia Mencarelli. RNS photo by Josephine McKenna

A surprising number of Italian Mormons grew up with parents or grandparents who embraced the faith years ago.  Many have also served as missionaries assigned to nations across the globe.

But a growing number, like Claudia Mencarelli, a linguistics student in Rome, are recent converts. Mencarelli surprised her Catholic parents when she converted while she was a 16-year-old high school exchange student in Utah.

“After the initial shock they could see how beneficial the church was,” the 23-year-old said.  “I feel such a great peace and joy from the gospel. I would not trade it for anything.”

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

13 Comments

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  • I’m quite confident that they expect a full fiduciary return on their investment.

  • I believe they want respect and to stand with the big boys based on the elaborate temples and other church buildings.

    The money saved on coffee, tea, cigarettes and caffeine beverages must add up!

  • They’ll be pulling in attendees from more than just Italy. Part of the reason for the Italy temple might have been to reduce the load on the Switzerland temple.

  • No, Temples do not generate revenue — they bless the lives of the Saints.
    If you have some practicing, active LDS friends, ask them what the Temple means to them.

  • Caffeinated beverages are not proscribed by the Word of Wisdom. It proscribes tobacco, beverage alcohol, and tea and coffee with or without caffeine. Caffeinated soft drinks are permitted.
    The Word of Wisdom was revealed in 1833, before modern medicine discovered the inherent dangers of some commonly-used substances.
    Other topics covered in the Word of Wisdom:
    Fruits and vegetables are best when eaten fresh in their own season (rather than canned, dried, pickled, or hothouse-grown)
    An overabundance of meat is not good for you. (Try eating as much beef as you can hold and see how you feel …)
    Grains are very good for you. The one best grain for human consumption is wheat (except for people with celiac disease, of course).
    Alcohol is not good to drink, but it is good for cleaning.
    Tobacco is not for smoking or chewing, but it has certain medical uses. (I know by my own experience that it relieves the pain of an insect sting immediately.)

  • “The money saved on coffee, tea, cigarettes and caffeine beverages must add up!”
    And liquor too — all that probably constitutes the 10% they divert to the church. So yes, the church does get “a full fiduciary return on their investment,” albeit indirectly: The Temple leads to new converts, which leads to increased income for the church. That’s not necessarily a put-down, but it’s undeniably a fact.

  • Yankeegator, Where did you hear that? it sounds like you don’t actually know much about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (aka Mormons). Also I doubt you have read the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ or you would know more about Moroni who was definitely not Lucifer, but a real person who was one of the ancient writers of the book.

  • You of course is a biased hateful person and it is such a waste of time to try to put some sense in that thick skull of yours. Every religion starts as a cult until it gets big like the Catholic Church, Church of England and so on. If you want to call it a cult go ahead but calling a prophet that we accept as Lucifer shows your level of ignorance. If anyone is in any level of hell is you sir. Go in peace… just go!

  • “The visitors center will also house marble replicas of Danish
    sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statues of Jesus and 12 Apostles. How do these 12 statues and the molten statue of Moroni find approval in the Bible (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15; Micah 5:12-13; Isaiah 44:9-10) and in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 21:17)?

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