VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met today at the Vatican in the first-ever face-to-face discussion between the heads of the two global churches.
“The differences in doctrine are real and they’re important,” President Nelson said afterward as he stood just outside St. Peter’s Square, “but they’re not nearly as important as the things we have in common — our concern for human suffering, the importance of religious liberty for all of society, and the importance of building bridges of friendship instead of building walls of segregation.”
The two world religious leaders shared a belief that faith in God brings morality and stability to society.
“If we have a godless society, we have a rudderless ship,” President Nelson said.
The pope extended the invitation for a private audience to the Latter-day Saint leader in conjunction with President Nelson’s trip this weekend to Italy, where he will dedicate the history-making new Rome Italy Temple.
The two men met for 30-35 minutes and also discussed their mutual concern for the youth in their churches, their concern about secularization and the desire for people to worship God, President Nelson said.
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, joined President Nelson in the meeting, along with Elder Massimo De Feo, a General Authority Seventy, and Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci, an Area Seventy. President Nelson’s personal secretary, Mark Woodruff, also attended the audience.
The pope presented President Nelson with two gifts, his declarations on the family and on the Islamic faith. President Nelson gave the pope a Lladro figurine of the Christus statue and a copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, pose near the Vatican in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019, after meeting with Pope Francis.
President Ballard said Pope Francis enjoyed the fact that he and President Nelson have had sons and grandchildren who served missions in the pope’s homeland of Argentina.
“He was very kind to us. We could not have asked for a more fulfilling experience,” said president Ballard of the meeting.
The pope and President Nelson embraced at the end of their time together.
“They gave each other a hug as we left that said everything,” President Ballard said.
President Nelson invited Pope Francis to Salt Lake City and to the Rome Italy Temple.
“He’s a dear, wonderful, humble, competent, gracious man,” President Nelson said . “I respect him highly.”
Elder De Feo called the meeting an historic event and said the two world religious leaders shared a respect for one another and their institutions.
“I had a wonderful feeling the minute we entered when I saw President Nelson, President Ballard and the the pope connecting together,” he said. “It was a wonderful feeling to see how they seemed to be like old friends after a minute.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019.
After the meeting, the Latter-day Saint leaders smiled as they walked arm in arm down Via della Conciliazione — the Road of the Conciliation — to address a large media contingent with the iconic St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.
The most senior Latter-day Saint leader to meet with a pope before today was President Henry B. Eyring, who was greeted by Pope Francis in November 2014 when both spoke at an international marriage summit at the Vatican. President Eyring then was the first counselor in the First Presidency.
A visit between a pope and the man considered a prophet by millions of Latter-day Saints would have been unimaginable to leaders and members in both churches 50 years ago. Clandestine olive branches and decades of détente were necessary, according to sources from both faiths interviewed for this story. That is exactly what has happened. In fact, today’s meeting is a culmination of a web of deepening and expanding alliances between the Latter-day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church and its many sister organizations.
That growing relationship has intensified during the past decade, resulting in collaborations that now have the two churches working side-by-side all over the world on projects vast and tiny.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pauses to talk with Ammon and Emma Schar, of Basel, Switzerland, in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The Schar family is in Rome for the temple dedication.
The Deseret News conducted more than 20 interviews with people from both faiths around the world, from Bosnia to Rome and from Salt Lake City to Norway, to provide a definitive look at how the churches’ combined efforts are not only helping to resolve differences between their own members but delivering emergency humanitarian aid to some of the world’s most vulnerable people — including many at the U.S.-Mexico border — as well as working to defend religious liberty and to bolster families.
“We explained to His Holiness that we work side by side, that we have projects with Catholic Relief Services all over the world, in over 43 countries,” President Ballard said. “We’ve been shoulder-to-shoulder as partners, and try to relieve suffering, trying to help people that are struggling. He was very interested in that and was very cordial , very kind to us.”
Rome and Salt Lake City
On Thursday, Catholics and Latter-day Saints indeed worked side-by-side to help the homeless and refugees in their respective headquarters, Rome and Salt Lake City.
That appeared impossible in the 1950s when, fearing their own congregations would be scandalized if church members knew they were meeting, the leader of the Latter-day Saints came to Salt Lake City’s Holy Cross Hospital for conversations with the head of the Salt Lake City Catholic diocese.
Read the rest of the article on Faith News | Deseret News.