(This article was originally posted at LDS.net)
Italy is timelessly historic. A standing religious memorial, its rock-paved roads bring visitors back to when Peter walked the streets of Rome. Back to when art wasn’t just a way of making a living, but evidence that God is the ultimate creator and inspiration.
One day among the cracked walls and aged paint of the monuments, leaves visitors speechless yet disappointed.
Their photos will never express the same peace they felt while dawn approached the fields of Tuscany. Nor the magnitude and weight of questions on their mind when, wandering out of the metro station, they were first faced with the ravishing giant Colosseo.
The fresh taste of gelato al limone lingers with tourists during the hot summers, as well as the memory of what pizza margherita should taste like—spread with crushed tomatoes and basil leaves, scattered with juicy, bold mozzarella, and baked in a fire-stone oven.
While these newly-heightened senses and sights will be kept close to tourists’ hearts, the spirit felt at the Mormon Rome Temple may soon be the greatest souvenir visitors take with them.
Preparing the Place
Acquiring the Land
In 1997, the Rome Italy Mission President, Leone Flosi, sent a request to the European Area offices, for the construction of a chapel for the Roma 2 Ward. Once the request was approved, Brother Vioncenzo Modugno, a recently retired facility manager in Italy, was assigned the duty of starting to search in the northern area of Rome.
For two years, Brother Modugno and local church leaders endlessly looked through newspaper ads, and drove around the streets of Rome in a light-gray Opel Zafira to evaluate possible lands.
Brother Modugno’s Italian leather moccasins, or wingtip brogues,—depending on the day—would rev against the clutch of the Church’s company car, his eyes searching and brow furrowing with the same uncertainty as the question: What would this new land actually be used for?
Meanwhile, two consecutive Rome mission presidents went about their work blooming with this spiritual intuition: The land that was found would not only be used for a chapel, but for a temple.
Through the morning fog in Autumn of ’99, after other Church leaders had found and evaluated three other possible lands, the Church finally approved to purchase an investment on Via di Settebagni; a land with farms dispersed across fields of grass, and Mediterranean Stone pine trees that jaggedly reach for the blue skies of Italy.
That November, the biggest part of the land was purchased.
By February 2000, the rest of the land that would one day be used for the temple, had been purchased.
Maintaining the Land
Modugno not only helped purchase the land for the temple, but was involved in maintaining the buildings and gardens on the land when it was purchased. The most prominent feature on the land was a proper three-story farmhouse.
On the bottom floor of the farmhouse, there were metal tracks where livestock were hung, and butchered. Stored along the walls, were large wooden casks that held 300-400 gallons of wine.
The barn was packed with feed, hay, a plow and other farm tools. Around the barn were pig pens and chicken coops, while on the back side was a brick oven for making pizza and a water well that had never run dry.
As lovely as this farmland was, it was abandoned, and gypsies were illegally occupying the building. The land was exposed and not fenced in, but the upper floors of the farmhouse were livable.
The mission president at the time, President Pacini, decided to use the building as an apartment complex for the office missionaries and Elders visiting for conferences. They fenced-in the land and moved bunk beds and mattresses into the upper floors.
Cut ahead to February, 2015. Vincenzo Modugno, sat casually on his turquoise living-room couch, occasionally sweeping his hand over his thinned brown hair and brushing over his grayed sideburns, he recounted all the memories of helping maintain the land for the temple.
“When the missionaries left the building, the gypsies kept trying to occupy the building again,” he said, slightly frustrated at the thought, leaning on his knees. His face—an almost identical, tanned Robert De Niro—shook with disapproval and looked down at his hands.
One cannot help but smile at the thought of such a patient, gentle man, such as Modugno, evacuating Romani women and children, their earth-colored shawls draped about them and gold bracelets clinking about their wrists as they shuffled out of the farmhouse, their long skirts dragging behind them as Modugno perhaps asked, “E voi che ci fate qui?“
Until it was officially announced that the temple would be built there, and he could have the abandoned farmhouse destroyed, Modugno had to continually make sure that gypsies and local sheep herders were not moving onto the land.
Blessing the Land
“At first, personally, I didn’t think it was going to be the land for the temple,” Modugno admitted.
There was nothing around the land. No buses, metros (subways), or public services. There wasn’t even the current exit off of the freeway, 500 yards away from the temple. However, one mission president in particular, President Pacini, started a very spiritual activity on the land before anyone even knew it would be used for the temple.
“On that land, there are probably more than 100 olive trees,” Vincenzo noted, stuttering with the uncertainty of his English numbers.
Starting in the Fall of 1999, on a Thursday morning, the missionaries would arrive in Rome jet-lagged and, some, quite frightened. The adrenaline of this new experience was the only thing that would keep them awake. Some of them had never been on an airplane before, or would never again serve specifically in Rome.
Thus, for three years, every six weeks, President Pacini would take all the new missionaries, in the middle of the day, on a brief tour of Rome, and then to Via di Settebagni, what is now the temple land, so they could see the olive trees.
“Most of the missionaries probably . . . would never have the opportunity to see an olive tree [in their lives].” Vincenzo explained with a modest laugh. Vincenzo helped prune the olive trees so that President Pacini could show the difference between a wild and tame tree.
After arriving in the garden and taking time to admire the olive trees and explain their symbolism, President Pacini would leave the missionaries to find a secluded place in the garden. A place of soft dirt or a patch of grass, so that they could kneel in the midst of the quiet, sacred nature and pray.
“It wasn’t up to us to say [the land] was for a temple,” President Pacini noted, as he reflected on those moments in the olive grove, “But we did explain that the brethren wouldn’t have spent this kind of money [on the land], if they didn’t see a future for the Church in Italy.”
This activity of praying in the olive grove was symbolic to the Savior’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, otherwise known as “The Garden of Olives,” just before His crucifixion.
Pacini explained it simply. “My challenge was just to make sure I did what [the Lord] asked, because it was His work, not mine.”
Three months into their missions, the missionaries would return to President Pacini in Rome. After having been vulnerably faced with the new Italian language, many felt discouraged by a haunting feeling that they were letting the Lord down with their inability to communicate fluently with investigators.
Joining back with President Pacini and other missionaries from their MTC group, helped them to see one another’s immense progress. Hundreds of missionaries were also asked to participate in another activity that changed their perspective.
President Pacini had all of the missionaries write a personal letter to themselves, as if they were at the end of their two-year mission, even though they had just gotten through the first three months. What had been accomplished? He would ask. President Pacini felt it to be a much more powerful form of goal-setting at that point of their mission.
President Pacini continued this exercise throughout his three years as mission president and kept all of the missionary’s letters.
With tears building to the brim of his eyes, Pacini voiced that many of the hundreds of letters mentioned the temple in them, before the declaration of the temple had even come to pass.
“They would say things like, ‘How great it is to be in the Lord’s vineyard, and labor and see a stake created. And see the temple start to be built.’” Pacini paraphrased.
The physical temple was not being built during their time as missionaries. As President Pacini says, “It was their vision.”
Read more at LDS.net—Don’t miss the other interesting sections of this in-depth article on the Rome Temple: