Two men met in Rome on Sunday, and the world is a brighter place. Russell M. Nelson, prophet, seer, revelator and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Pope Francis, earthy vicar of Christ and leader of the Roman Catholics, met in Rome at the Vatican to talk about issues both consider of utmost importance. While differences in doctrine between the two leaders are real and significant, the things they share in common are more important and include an authentic and overarching concern for our collective welfare worldwide and firm belief that Jesus Christ is the head and heart of the faith. This was the first such meeting between an LDS president and a pope.
President Nelson called Pope Francis a “concerned, loving and gracious leader” and expressed his own view that the “Catholic people” are fortunate to have the pope as head of the Catholic Church.
President Nelson was in Rome to dedicate the new RomeTemple, a monumental building complex very much in keeping with modern Roman tastes and expectations. Latter Day Saints and all of the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles attended the dedication of the temple, a symbolic and theological matter of great importance to the 16 million practicing members of the church worldwide.
The two leaders talked about the importance of religious liberty and their shared concerns for people who suffer throughout the world. They discussed the importance of the family and exchanged gifts, including a copy of the document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” expressing LDS views on families and the strength of families from President Gordon B. Hinckley and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1995.
President Nelson told Pope Francis he would meet with hundreds of Italian youth on Saturday night. Pope Francis told President Nelson to admonish the youth to “love their grandparents.” Both men understood that, after all, “the good in this world is done person to person, and not president to pope,” President Nelson said.
The meeting comes at a difficult time for Catholics as the church is embroiled in major conflicts that have rocked the faithful and caused much soul searching among Catholic leaders. There is no indication that these issues were raised by either man in the 33-minute meeting. The two churches have worked together behind the scenes to relieve suffering, share resources, and give significant aid to disaster relief across the Earth.
President Nelson greeted Pope Francis in Spanish and embraced the pontiff at the conclusion of the meeting.
The church says it took years and extraordinary efforts to build the temple in the capital of Catholicism. “The Rome temple is the 162nd LDS temple in the world, with 40 more under construction,” Nelson said. "We build temples so our faithful members can visit often and receive the most sacred ordinances of our faith." The land was purchased in the late 1990s and construction began in 2010.
The Rome temple is a spectacular earthly representation of heaven as envisaged by Latter Day Saints with twin symbols of the “oval and the olive tree” motifs throughout the architecture and decorations. The oval reminds members that “the Lord’s course is one eternal round,” and the “olive tree represents the Garden of Gethsemane,” where Jesus took on himself the sins of the world for all human kind. LDS temples are quite beautiful, peaceful, and filled with light, members say. Major statues at the site include the Christos and many of the saints and prophets of old. A virtual temple tour is available on the church website and LDS.org.