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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, greets temple attendees in Rome on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

ROME — Gasps have frequently followed announcements made by President Russell M. Nelson during his vigorous 14 months as prophet-leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Several months ago, it was the rest of the church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who found themselves gasping in their regular Thursday meeting in the Salt Lake Temple.

That's where President Nelson issued an unprecedented assignment to all 14 of them to join him this week at the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple. That had never happened before outside the United States.

"We'd never heard of anything where all were present in that way," said Elder D. Todd Christofferson, who is completing his 11th year as an apostle.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, smile during an interview in Rome on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

In fact, a church president has taken all the apostles with him just twice in 62 years — and never once outside the United States.

"It was an absolute delight," Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said. "I don't think any of us anticipated that happening."

The question many people have asked is, why now? And why Rome, aside from the fact the apostles all expressed a kinship with Peter and Paul, who tradition says preached in the Eternal City.

"I think very few of us, if any, had expected to be invited to this dedication, knowing that the pattern is one or two typically would participate," Elder Christofferson said.

"I was astonished," said the church's junior apostle, Elder Ulisses Soares.

"Everyone's reaction was (gasp)," said Elder Gerrit W. Gong, the other first-year quorum member.

"Everyone was really kind of overcome when we heard," Elder Gary E. Stevenson said.

President Nelson, who members of the church sustain as a prophet, said the reason was heaven-sent.

"I was just following the instructions I've received," President Nelson said. "It was very clear to me that I was to invite all my colleagues, and so I was just following my instructions. ... The brethren thank me for the privilege of coming, but I thank the Lord for his letting all of us come."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Arianna Giovita stands by the Christus in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center in Rome on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

"I have to thank the Lord for touching your heart," President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Twelve, told him. "It's a wonderful, great thing."

Elder Quentin L. Cook called the experience a spiritual high and Elder Ronald A. Rasband said it was a lifetime thrill. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf described it as a gift from the president and heaven.

"We don't often get to do now something all together," Elder Christofferson said. "We have our respective assignments with traveling here and there. Maybe if we're lucky there might be two of us in a given place in a given moment. But to do something with all of us at the same time doesn't happen that often. It adds to it."

President Nelson said he learned more about the inspiration once he arrived in Rome and was surrounded by an energized brotherhood who captured the moment with a group photo.

"These apostles now will go all over the world and recap the experiences that they felt here as this holy house was dedicated," he said.

On Tuesday, a day after President Nelson flew home with a departing statement about the Rome Temple dedication being a hinge-point in church history, several apostles mentioned it.

"I think bringing all of us here, he wants us to pivot to something. I don't know how we go any faster," Elder Cook said, laughing. "We try to do our best to keep up with him, but what guidance, what direction we're receiving, and this is just an accentuation of that that I think is really quite remarkable. We're grateful to have a chance to to work and serve under him. He is a great leader."

President Nelson told the others it would have been excruciating to leave anyone out, said Elder David A. Bednar.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
A reflection of the Christus with the Rome Italy Temple in the background in Rome on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

"President Nelson is like a father who has a great joy he wants to share with his children," Elder Neil L. Andersen added, "who has that feeling of, 'this is going to be an unforgettable experience and because I love you so much I don't want to experience it without you.' And we of course were just, well, we were overwhelmed that we could come. We were as much overwhelmed with the thought that he would want us to come."

Elder Cook said President Nelson's inspiration to take all 15 dated back to the first days as president of the church in early 2018.

"When President Nelson came in to be prophet, I was chairman of temple and family history, and he said in temple sites (meeting) that he was feeling very strongly that he'd received guidance that all 15 were to go," Elder Cook said. "So I heard a little bit before the others.

"He got this soon after he was the prophet. He got an enormous amount of guidance from the Lord on temples in a lot of different areas. And this was one."

The history-making visit included the first papal audience for a Latter-day Saint church president, as Pope Francis hosted President Nelson at the Vatican.

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Monday, when all 15 were together for five hours, and the seven dedication sessions in which they took turns participating across three days, created "a beautiful, overwhelming experience," Elder Cook said. "It has been absolutely incredible."

Elder Uchtdorf, who was raised in Germany, said it was good for Italians to see all of the apostles together in their country. He also said this week's events were significant because of the missions accomplished in Rome by Peter and Paul.

"Now here is another wonderful mission accomplished (in Rome) by the prophet by the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," he said.