A Look Inside Philadelphia's New Mormon Temple
by Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The newest addition to Philadelphia's skyline is the world's 152nd Mormon Temple, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints gave the media a rare look inside.
Standing 19 stories high, and topped with a golden Angel, the Philadelphia temple is the first in Pennsylvania.
"A temple is a place of peace, inspiration, learning, and sacred ceremonies," says Milan Kunz, an Elder in the LDS Church.
He and other elders of the church gathered in the new meeting-house on Vine Street and then invited reporters to come inside the 61,000 square foot temple next door.
"When you cross the threshold of a temple, you come into the household of god-- that is unlike any experience you can have in this life," says Larry Wilson, Elder, LDS Church.
The temple will serve more than 40,000 Mormons in the region, provide a place of peace, prayer, and a sacred place to perform the LDS Church's most important sacraments.
Reporters had to ditch their cameras, but church leaders provided video footage and photographs of the interior of the temple. When you walk into the entry way, the first thing you notice-- is the silence.
There is a waiting area, but only members of the LDS church are allowed to go inside the sacred walls that hold a baptismal fountain, instruction rooms, a sealing room, holding areas for wedding parties, and finally, the holiest space, known as the celestial room.
"You experience a feeling of sacredness, a feeling of peace," says Wilson.
Church leaders say the temple is built to last and was made with the best materials. The church commissioned oil paintings, colonial style chandeliers, and used 18th century architecture throughout. The details are astounding, with elements of Philadelphia and American history on every floor.
"We sold fruits and vegetables and everything we had to go there," says Vai Sikahema, a member of the LDS church who oversees 13 congregations in South Jersey.
Sikahema, who was born on the Island of Tonga in the South Pacific, says his family saved for years to trek to the temple nearest to his homeland at the time; it was in New Zealand.
"It took my parents six years to save-- and they only had enough for one way passage," he says, "it is my earliest memory."
Sikahema says the journey to a Temple is supremely important for Mormons.
"The crowning blessing of membership in our faith is to enter a temple," he says, "people sacrifice to go there."
Now, the 40,000 LDS members in the region, including all of Pennsylvania, Southern and Central New Jersey, Delaware and Northern Maryland, can get to a Temple more often and bask in its splendor.
The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple will be open to the public from August 10th to September 9th. So far, 150,000 are expected to take the tour, but church leaders say they can accommodate more. Once the temple is dedicated in September, only members of the church will be allowed inside.
"We invite everyone to come in and see this beautiful new structure and what goes on inside of it," says Wilson.
To find out more about the LDS church or to register for a tour, go to philadelphiamormontemple.org, or call 1-855-537-2000.
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