LDS church President Nelson meets with Pope Francis in Vatican

Pope Francis welcomes President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Vatican in Rome, Italy, March 9, 2019 | Photo courtesy of The Vatican, St. George News

VATICAN CITY — President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met with Pope Francis inside the Vatican Saturday, the first meeting between a Latter-day Saint president and a pope.

President Russell M. Nelson greets a Latter-day Saint family from Switzerland on the street leading to the Vatican in Rome, Italy, March 9, 2019. The family came to Rome to participate in the dedication of the first LDS temple in Italy. | Photo courtesy of Intellectual Reserve Inc., St. George News

According to a news release published on the Latter-day Saint Newsroom website, the historic visit comes a day before Nelson is scheduled to dedicate the church’s first temple in Rome. President Nelson was joined by President M. Russell Ballard, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Following the 33-minute meeting, Nelson and Ballard met with members of the media.

“We had a most cordial, unforgettable experience. His Holiness, he was most gracious and warm and welcoming,” Nelson said in the news release. “What a sweet, wonderful man he is, and how fortunate the Catholic people are to have such a gracious, concerned, loving and capable leader.”

“We talked about our mutual concern for the people who suffer throughout the world and want to relieve human suffering,” Nelson said. “We talked about the importance of religious liberty, the importance of the family, our mutual concern for the youth of the Church, for the secularization of the world and the need for people to come to God and worship Him, pray to Him and have the stability that faith in Jesus Christ will bring in their lives.”

According to Ballard, they spoke of the close relations the two faiths have in working together on humanitarian projects.

“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,” Ballard said. “(We’ve) been shoulder to shoulder as partners in trying to relieve suffering. He was very interested in that.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents Pope Francis with a small statue of the Christus and a framed copy of the church’s proclamation on the family during a visit to the the Vatican in Rome, Italy, March 9, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the Vatican, St. George News

Elder Alessandro Dini-Ciacci, a local LDS church leader in Rome, also attended the meeting.

“How inspiring it was for me to witness two of the leaders of the leading faiths in the world meet together and share brotherhood,” he said. “This is beautiful to witness and something we can sure learn from in our association with people of other faiths.”

Latter-day Saint church officials and church members are gathered in Rome this weekend to dedicate the faith’s 162nd temple worldwide and the 12th one in Europe.

Located on a 15-acre site, the lush complex features an oval-shaped marble house of worship crowning a hilltop and a visitor center featuring a larger-than-life marble statue of Christ surrounded by smaller statues of the apostles.

The 40,000-square foot temple will serve the church’s 22,000 members in Italy, as well as those in a few surrounding countries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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