ROME — A Catholic delegation led by the secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity took a tour Tuesday of the new Rome Italy Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Most Reverend Bishop Brian Farrell headed a group that included four other priests and three sisters.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles led the tour with Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy. They, along with Elder David A. Bednar of the Twelve and other church leaders, are leading tours this week for dignitaries prior to the temple's public open house, which will be held Jan. 28-Feb. 16, excluding Sundays.
"The delegation from the Catholic Church came today at our invitation," Elder Rasband said. "They said they came to the temple to learn. They wanted to learn about what we do in both our meetinghouses and in our temples. And they were wonderful. They were friendly. They acknowledged our partnership and our working together around the world on social issues like freedom of religion in the public square. They complimented us especially on the relationship we have with the Catholic Church in America and said that they'd like to have a continuing relationship with us here in Europe."
The Most Rev. Farrell is secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Dublin native served in the Vatican's Secretariat of State from 1981-2002. He was consecrated a bishop in 2003.
He was joined by another member of the council, Father Avelino Gonzalez, a native Cuban and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. He is a past president of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington.
Elder Rasband said one leader had attended the Washington D.C. Temple open house in 1974. The others had not been inside a Latter-day Saint temple before.
"They were righteously curious," Elder Rasband said, "very appropriately curious. They had good, spiritually based questions. We had a respectful, long conversation about a number of scriptures in the Old and New Testaments."
Leaders from both churches work together on a number of issues. For example, the chief of a papal law court called the Roman Rota, David Maria Jaeger, and another Latter-day Saint apostle, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, will be part of a conference on Sunday in Rome on religious voices and human dignity. Conference attendees will visit religious sites in the city, including the Rome Temple.
The churches' charities also work together around the world.
The temple open house, covered broadly Tuesday in Rome's newspapers, has provided an opportunity for members of other faiths to see the inside of a temple. Once a temple is dedicated, only church members who observe the faith's basic principles may enter.
Elder Rasband became emotional on Tuesday as he hugged the Rev. Dr. Chris Zacharias, pastor of the John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church in Washington, D.C., after leading him through the temple. Dr. Zacharias described his new relationship with Elder Rasband as "eternal."
"I believe at any moment that we can call one another, not only for encouragement, to uplift each other," he said, "but also to work together for the common good of man so that everyone may know who Jesus is."
A highlight of the tour was "the marriage sealing room," he said, "where Apostle Rasband prayed for all of us and for all souls in marriage and relationship with God. That was exceedingly awesome."
Dr. Zacharias learned about the open house from his Latter-day Saint friend, Jim Tate, on the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington.
"We're here on that invitation," Dr. Zacharias said, "to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the Latter-day Saints here in Rome, Italy. Can you believe it?
"We're pinching ourselves," said his wife, Kim Zacharias.
Dr. Zacharias said he wants to bring his congregation to the Rome Temple public open house and the open house expected at the Washington D.C. Temple after its renovation.
"I've already told them that we need to take a visit to the D.C. temple visitors' center," he said, "and even model some of those ways of opening and welcoming to share our own history, not only as African-Americans but our own A.M.E. Zion history, so that others can tour and know the church John Wesley bore. We also are going to continue to work progressively to build our ecumenical and interfaith relationships."
The interchange appeared to fulfill the goal of the president of Rome's city council, who called the city a place of "inclusion and dialogue."
"We are committed to living peacefully, and that is a message of all religions," Marcello De Vito said during Monday's media briefing. "And all religions should allow conversations and dialogue. Days like these are designed to allow us to grow in respect for each other and consider each other as a resource. We wish you well in the following months and hope you can integrate into the city and we’ll have more opportunities together."
The Rome open house is also a chance for the Latter-day Saints to, as Elder Bednar said in the media briefing, "dispel many of the misconceptions and misunderstandings about the teachings and practices of members of the church."
European and American religious academics joined tours led by Elder Bednar and Elder Rasband, who will continue in that role through Thursday.
When they leave, the responsibility for leading dignitary tours will fall to two other members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Stevenson beginning Friday and through the weekend, and Elder Dale G. Renlund next week.
Elder Bednar said that taking people through the temple in Rome had particular significance for him.
"My father was a Catholic," he said. "As a young man, he aspired to be a priest. And I have an aunt who's a nun, Sister Rosario, my Aunt Mary.
"So all my life I've been answering questions about, now what is it you do? And why do you do that? So today to take these really sincerely interested journalists through the temple and respond to their questions, questions of the soul, questions about living the gospel on a daily basis, we simply tried to explain to them that there is a pattern of progression that is symbolized in the temple: As we put off the natural man, we become new creatures in Christ. They were fascinated by the journey from baptism through an endowment to the celestial room to a sealing of a man and a woman and perhaps the children.
"It was glorious, but for me, it's just something that I've had a lot of opportunities to practice, even in my own family."