SALT LAKE CITY - Mormon church president Thomas S. Monson said Saturday the church has plans to build five new temples worldwide, three abroad and two in the United States.
The temples are planned for Calgary, Canada; Cordoba, Argentina; Rome, Italy; Philadelphia and in the greater Kansas City, Mo. area.
Monson's announcement came as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened its two-day semiannual General Conference. The event draws more than 100,000 to the faith's downtown campus which includes the Salt Lake City Temple and the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, home of the renowned Tabernacle Choir.
The 13 million-member Utah-based church currently has 128 operating temples worldwide. Construction or plans for another 12 were already in the works before Saturday's announcement.
A Kansas City-area temple should hold great significance for Mormons. In the 1830s church founder Joseph Smith led an early Mormon migration to Independence, Mo., and declared the area would be the center of Zion and the New Jerusalem. Now a Kansas City suburb, many Mormons also believe the area was the original site of the Garden of Eden.
Monson has dedicated three temples - in Curitiba, Brazil; Panama City, Panama; and Twin Falls, Idaho - since he was named the 16th church president in February.
Temples play an important role in the lives of Latter-day Saints. Only members in good standing may enter the towering white buildings, where members perform sacred religious ceremonies, including proxy baptisms and wedding ceremonies known as sealings.
Worldwide temple building is a legacy from 15th church president Gordon B. Hinckley, who began the effort so that members of the church outside the United States could more easily access the buildings to perform their religious rituals.
The locations selected for new temples reflect the growth of the church.
There are currently 11 Mormon temples in Europe, but none are in the Mediterranean or in Rome, the historical seat of Christianity and the home of the Catholic church.
Mormons have had a presence in Italy since 1850, although its missionaries have not always been allowed to proselytize there, according to information on a church Web site. Currently the church has more than 22,600 members in Italy. In May, the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy issued an order to Catholic dioceses worldwide to withhold member registries from Mormons. Officials said the step would prevent Mormons from posthumously baptizing by proxy their Catholic ancestors.
The Calgary temple will increase the number of temples in Canada, where the church has more than 170,000 members, to eight. The Cordoba temple will be the second Argentina and bring the total number of temples in Latin America to 34. Argentina has more than 363,000 Latter-day Saints.
There are 51 temples in the United States, according to a data on a church Web site. The Kansas City-area temple will be Missouri's second. The Philadelphia temple is Pennsylvania's first.
Architecturally, temples are towering white buildings with tall steeples. Many are topped with a trumpet-blowing golden angel draped in flowing robes. The figure represents the angel Moroni, whom Mormons believe led Smith to a set of buried golden plates that, when translated, became known as the Book of Mormon, the faith's central text.
A rapidly growing faith, the Mormon church has a presence in more than 170 countries. The church is well established in North and South America and Europe. In recent years, some of the most rapid growth has occurred in Africa, where the faith now claims more than 250,000 members.
More than 52,000 church missionaries are serving around the world. But Monson said Saturday there remain places where Latter-day Saints are not allowed to freely proselytize.
"I urge you to pray for the opening of those areas that we might share with them the joy of the Gospel," he told members.
Mormons gather in April and October to hear words of inspiration and guidance from leaders. The proceedings are also broadcast to millions more on television, by satellite and the Internet and translated into more than 80 languages.