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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Five new temples were announced in the opening session Saturday of the 178th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The 12th European temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be built in Rome.

During the opening Saturday session of the 178th Semiannual General Conference, convened in the Conference Center, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced five new temples will be built in coming years.

Currently, 128 temples are in operation, and today's announcement brings the number of announced temples to 17. Once completed, the new temples will bring the worldwide total to 145.

The exact location of the new temples will be announced at a later date. Not since April 2000 have so many temples been announced at one time, according to a church news release.

The Rome Italy Temple will be the first to be constructed near the worldwide headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church. It will serve church members from a variety of countries and greatly reduce travel time and expense to the Latter-day Saints living in the area, the release states.

President Monson said the church also plans to build temples in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Cordoba, Argentina; the greater Kansas City area; and in Philadelphia. The announcement of the temple in Rome brought an audible gasp and smiles to more than 20,000 church members assembled in the Conference Center.

Reaction was emotional. Italy Rome Mission President Jeffrey Acerson, who has been in Rome sine July 2007, was moved by the news.

"The Saints in Italy have waited a long time," Acerson said, his voice cracking. "We 're excited, we're anxious and we're very humbled by the decision of a prophet of the Lord to move forward with a temple in Rome."

When he heard the news, Acerson said at first he wanted to react like Italian soccer fans, who take to the streets when their teams win.

"I felt like all the Saints here in Italy wanted to go into the streets to let everyone know a temple is coming," he said.

The LDS Church has more than 22,000 members in Italy, where preaching first began in 1850 by then-Elder Lorenzo Snow, who later became president of the church. The first congregation of Latter-day Saints in Italy was organized in Brescia on March 20, 1966. The first Italian mission was opened in August that year, but the church didn't have formal legal status until 1993.

Though a temple site hasn't been announced, many Italian church members think a location on church-owned land on the northeastern side of Rome would be a perfect fit, Acerson said.

Tullio DeRuvo, Church spokesman in Italy, said the site many members speculate about is typical Roman countryside adorned with Mediterranean pine trees. The land is located with easy access to a freeway on the outskirts of Rome, DeRuvo said.

And Rome is likely to be closer for Saints in Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, members who currently travel to Bern, Switzerland, for temple work. Though the Rome temple is likely to draw Church members, who coordinate temple service with vacation time, from all over Europe.

Though the temple district hasn't been established yet, DeRuvo said, it's possible that Church members in northern African countries could travel across the Mediterranean Sea, as well.

The placement of temples in Philadelphia and the greater Kansas City area reflects steady church growth throughout the United States, where there are now several dozen temples.

The Calgary temple will be the eighth temple in Canada, the third in the province of Alberta. A temple currently is under construction in Vancouver.

The temple in Cordoba will be the second in Argentina, the Buenos Aires temple being the first. Today's announcement will bring the total number of temples in Latin America to 34.

Ground was broken for the 11th European temple, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2007.

For members of the church, temples are the most sacred places on earth. They are used solely for the performance of sacred ceremonies such as marriage and religious instruction aimed at strengthening members' relationships with God and their fellow men. The temples provide a place of holiness and peace, separate from the preoccupations of the world, where church members make formal promises and commitments to God.

Last week, the church announced the open house and dedication dates for the next temple to be completed. The Draper Utah Temple, the 129th worldwide, will be open for public tours from Jan. 15 through March 14. It will then be dedicated in 12 separate sessions from March 20 to March 22.

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com