ROME, Italy (ABC4 News) – In Rome, the Latter-day Saint claim that the faith is the only one to possess apostolic authority from God is carved in marble.
Eleven statues of Christ’s original apostles stand behind the Christus statue in the visitor’s center for the newly-constructed Rome, Italy temple, which will be dedicated this weekend.
The event is a historic moment for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be in attendance.
“This is believed to be the first time in Church history that all 15 leaders have gathered in one location outside the United States,” read a Friday morning statement from the Utah-based church.
Historian Ron Fox is well-versed in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, established in 1830 by Joseph Smith, considered by many so-called “Mormons” to be the Lord’s first prophet in the “latter days.” He said the moment is significant for the church, as leaders ask everyone to kindly refer to the faith no longer as “Mormon,” but as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – emphasizing the name of Jesus.
The statue of Peter in the visitor’s center is a replica of a statue that sits in the Church of Our Lady in Denmark. The apostle is shown holding keys – representing the keys of the kingdom, a symbol of church authority. Latter-day Saints refer to these “keys” as the keys of the holy priesthood, which both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints boldly claim to possess.
“We believe that President Russell M. Nelson has those keys today,” Fox told ABC4 News. Fox also added that Rome is an extremely “significant” location for the new temple since it is essentially the seat of Roman Catholicism and one of the birthplaces of Christianity.
The 40,000 square foot temple borrows heavily from ancient Roman architecture and includes the finest materials, including Venetian glass chandeliers, commissioned artwork, and a free-floating staircase.
“The temple is an expression of our love and devotion to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” said Elder David A. Bednar, one of the church’s twelve apostles. “Nothing is too good for the Lord.”
Fox said the church’s placement of the new temple in the Eternal City sends a bold message to Europe and the world that the church is literally a restoration of Christ’s original organization.
“It’s spreading the message that we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ,” said Fox.
While the Latter-day Saint faith and the Catholic Church share a cordial relationship, participating in summits dedicated to preserving religious freedom and other humanitarian projects, many Catholics do not consider it a Christian faith.
Fox suggested the recent emphasis on the correct name of the Church may be timely, considering the upcoming dedication.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes Peter’s authority and church presidency anciently but believes that revelation continues today through living prophets.
“The claim of the Catholic Church rests on the idea that the authority bestowed upon Peter has been perpetuated through the centuries in the papacy,” wrote Latter-day Saint religious scholar A. Burt Horsley “Latter-day Saints accept the presidency of Peter but take the position that the Church was to be built upon the rock of revelation—not on Peter.”
Latter-day Saints believe in a period of time called “The Great Apostasy” which began after the deaths of the original apostles, according to a church doctrinal website. During that time, God’s priesthood authority was suspended from the earth and was not restored until 1830, Latter-day Saints believe.
Fox said the fact that all fifteen of the men considered by members Christ’s literal apostles are in Rome for the dedicatory festivities makes a bold statement.
“They are basically saying that we are like the apostles of old,” he said.
“It’s unusual for them all to be together outside the temple,” Fox said, referring to the Thursday night temple worship the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve participate in weekly. Fox also cited potential security concerns for all of them being together simultaneously in one area. The church likely had good reason to keep that announcement quiet until the weekend.
“I think that was wise,” he said.
The last time the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles attended a temple dedication together was during the dedication of the restored Nauvoo Temple in 2002, Fox said.
The dedication of the Rome temple will be divided into several sessions so that as many members can attend as possible. The event will take place this weekend.