updated 10/4/2008 9:50:07 PM ET 2008-10-05T01:50:07

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 the greater Kansas City, Missouri, 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.

Plans for an additional 12 temples were already in the works before Saturday's announcement.

A Kansas City-area temple should hold great significance for Mormons. Church founder Joseph Smith led an early Mormon migration to Independence, Missouri, 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.

The Rome temple will be the church's first in Italy and the twelfth in Europe.

The Calgary temple will increase the number of temples in Canada to eight.

The Cordoba temple will be the second Argentina and bring the total number of temples in Latin America to 34.

There are 51 temples in the United States, according to data on a church Web site.

Towering temples
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 church founder Joseph 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.

Mormon 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.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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