The Saints in Barcelona: Faithful Converts

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“The Saints in Barcelona: Faithful Converts,” Ensign, Aug. 1990, 78–79

The Saints in Barcelona: Faithful Converts

The first LDS church services held in Barcelona, Spain, took place in a beauty parlor owned by Josefa Lacuay and her nonmember husband. Josefa had joined the Church in Uruguay in 1963 and came to Barcelona with her family to discover that the Church was not established there. When missionaries from the French Mission came to her suburb in the late 1960s, she could help them find an apartment but not a place for a chapel. So for seven months every Sunday morning, the hair dryers, rollers, and hair sprays in the Lacuays’ shop gave way to a church service attended by the few LDS pioneers in the Barcelona area.

Today, members of the Barcelona stake number almost two thousand, obviously requiring much more than a small shop in which to hold their meetings. But the spirit of the Lacuays’ sacrifice and dedication lives on in the conversion stories of Barcelona Saints.

Their city, the largest Spanish port on the Mediterranean, is the major commercial and cultural center of northeastern Spain. Historical Barcelona dates from pre-Christian times, and the ruins of a Roman city have been excavated beneath its central plazas. During the Middle Ages, it was an important trading port—a link between the Muslim world of spices and exotic fruits and European markets. The natives of Barcelona, the Catalans, gained their reputation as people of commerce, noted for their drive and hard work.

Through the centuries, business and trade have been a way of life for the Catalan population. The city became a network of small family businesses where children grew up working at their parents’ side, knowing that the business would be theirs to carry on. The Barcelonese families of today, mostly of Catalan origin, are still heavily involved in commercial work. The workday is long, and for many there is little time for other activities.

As a result, Church beginnings in Barcelona were slow. A people strongly tied to the religious traditions of the past and concerned about the business of the present had little time to discuss strange new beliefs from America. But some of the conversion stories of these past twenty years show how the Spirit can overcome even such formidable barriers as these.

Josefa Parada is a case in point. She was a former nun who had left the convent to marry. She had no desire to investigate other religions, but when she noticed a definite change in the lives of her neighbors, the Prieto family of the Barcelona suburb of Badalona, she asked them the reason. Their response wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear: “We’ve been baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

The Prietos visited Josefa’s family until her son, Enrique, was baptized. Josefa felt the influence of the Spirit, but she had difficulty contemplating breaking away from her religious traditions. Not until 1979, when her third son was about to be baptized—and by then she was attending LDS meetings and reading the Book of Mormon—did she gain a strong enough conviction to be baptized herself. Her husband, Aurelio, later obtained a testimony through fervent prayer, quit smoking, and also joined the Church two years later. The family has been to the temple six times since then.

Because joining the Church in Spain requires much sacrifice in breaking from established tradition, members are all the more dedicated. After Manuel and Maria Trancosco were visited by two missionaries in 1976, Manuel prayed about their message and studied the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. When a spiritual confirmation came to him while at his job as a mechanic, he ran home to ask the elders to baptize him immediately.

Since the family’s conversion, Manuel has devoted himself to serving in many different callings, despite a work schedule that starts at six in the morning and ends at ten at night. The family also had enough faith to drive their tiny car to the Swiss Temple, some eight hundred miles to the north. Their testimonies were strengthened as they traveled, for each time they stopped to ask directions, they found someone who spoke Spanish. Manuel and Maria were sealed to their four children and have now added four more to their eternal family.

The same allegiance to tradition that makes missionary proselyting difficult also demands ingenuity in doing member-missionary work. About fourteen years ago, in Premia de Mar, a small suburb of Barcelona, Mari Carmen Clavet and Carol B. Rivero began holding home Relief Society. No branch existed in the town. The majority of the twenty-five women who attended were not members of the Church, but they still seemed to enjoy the prayerfully selected lessons prepared each week.

When four baptisms resulted from the Premia sisterhood, missionaries were sent to the small town and established the Premia de Mar Branch, although there were no priesthood holders at the time. For several years missionaries served as branch presidents, until a returned missionary, Javier Garriga—once a Primary student of Sister Rivero—moved to Premia de Mar. He now serves as branch president.

In another suburb, Hospitalet, Ramon and Gloria Arriaga regularly invite nonmember friends and family to their weekly family home evenings. “Sometimes we’ve had as many as ten to twelve visitors,” they say. “We make goals during the week of whom to help or invite, always trying to show love to someone lonely.” Their two children were called at the same time to serve missions in Madrid, Spain’s capital. “You might say we’ve been on a mission through our children,” their mother says. “We lived every minute of their service for the Lord and felt the blessings flow.”

Young members like Ferran Silvestre are representative of the up-and-coming generation of Barcelona Saints. Ferran finally joined the Church at age twenty, although his parents had been baptized when he was twelve. When two missionaries gained Ferran’s trust, he listened to the discussions. Those sessions, along with his study of the Book of Mormon, brought him an undeniable spiritual confirmation of the truth of the gospel.

After spending a year in compulsory military service, Ferran still wanted to go on a mission, although by then he was in his mid-twenties. He has now returned from a mission to Washington, D.C., which he describes as “the experience of my life.”

The conversion of Carlos Rodriguez and his wife, Julia, dates back nearly twenty years. As a young married couple, they struggled to find the truth and finally decided to go to India on a religious quest. While driving through Turkey, they were stranded when their car broke down. They decided to stay there, turning their search to an investigation of Islam. But one day Carlos began reading the Bible, and he realized he was a Christian, with a deep sense of gratitude for Jesus Christ.

The Rodriguezes returned to Spain, convinced that somewhere they would find the truth in a Christian church. In Barcelona, Carlos discovered a copy of the Book of Mormon among the few belongings he had stored there, and he began reading it. He became so absorbed that he read the book nonstop, without eating or sleeping, for forty-eight hours. As soon as he finished, he led Julia to an LDS meeting-place, hoping to find someone to teach him more. Unfortunately, it was Saturday afternoon, and no one was around. Just after Julia gave up and went home—telling him, “We can go to the chapel tomorrow, dear”—two missionaries arrived. A week later, Carlos and Julia were baptized. Carlos now serves as bishop in one of the Barcelona wards.

These members are typical of the growing Church membership in Barcelona. They found the time, the strength, and the desire to accept the restored gospel when the Holy Ghost touched their lives and brought them to baptism. The work-hours are still long. But somehow there is always time for Church meetings, missions, and temple excursions for these pioneer members in Spain, who serve the Lord with enthusiasm and devotion.

A view of Barcelona and a scene in the city’s Pueblo Espanol section serve as backdrops for local Latter-day Saints: returned missionary David Perez, upper left; members of the Premia de Mar Branch, upper right; pioneer member Josefa Lacuay, center right; and painter Enrique Torres and wife, Virginia, lower right. (Photos by Susana Rivero Baughman, David Doxey, and Betsy VanDenBerghe.)