“Italy: A Foundation in Faith,” Ensign, June 1999, 78–79
For centuries, the beautiful countryside of central Italy has inspired artists, writers, musicians, and poets. As far as the eye can see, rolling hills and fields are adorned with vineyards, umbrella pines, and cypress and olive trees. The gospel of Jesus Christ has likewise inspired many hundreds of steadfast people in this beautiful region who have joined the Church since Italy was rededicated for the preaching of the gospel in 1966 by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
An indication of that growth was made evident in 1994 when the Florence Italy District, located midway between Rome and Milan and extending from coast to coast through the central part of Italy, was divided into three separate districts—Pisa, Florence, and Rimini. These three districts have a combined total of 16 branches and 1,682 members of the Church. From among these pioneers have come many stalwart members. Their faith adds to the unique beauty of this part of the world.
When Roberto Asioli, second counselor in the Italy Padova Mission, first met the missionaries, he was a discouraged young man working through a sad time in his life. His wife, Loretta, had just lost a baby and was in the hospital.
Roberto was home alone when a knock came at his door. He saw two missionaries standing there, but he felt so low that he did not open the door. At the same time the next evening, a knock came at his door again. “This time I opened the door and invited the missionaries to come in,” he recalls. “We started to talk, and I felt their spirit immediately. It was not difficult for me to receive their testimony—it was the right time for me to hear the gospel message.”
As he learned more about the gospel, Roberto wanted to share his feelings with his wife and tell her of his wish to be baptized. She was not interested. Disappointed, Roberto worried about being baptized without his wife. He prayed for Loretta to recognize the same spirit and happiness he had found, and he considered postponing his baptism.
“When I spoke to the elders about my concern for my wife, they gave me a blessing and a promise from the Lord,” says Roberto. “They said, ‘If you will be baptized, you will show your faith to the Lord, and He will never leave you alone. You will convert your wife.’”
Twenty days after the elders knocked on his door, Roberto was baptized. He was one of the first members of the Church in Rimini. He decided to be an example for his wife and give all his energy to living the gospel as he should.
And Loretta watched. She watched as he woke early on cold Sunday mornings and went to church on his motorbike, never trying to force her to accompany him. She watched as he studied his scriptures. And she watched as he prayed alone by his bedside each night.
And they talked. Their conversations were not at first about the gospel; they talked about their life, about their marriage. Loretta remembers, “I realized that the Church and the message of the gospel were very important to Roberto. I realized that I couldn’t stay indifferent to this—I am his wife! I had to learn more about the gospel, so I started reading the Book of Mormon.” Roberto baptized Loretta only two months after his own baptism.
When Roberto Asioli became the branch president 17 years ago, there were only 10 people in the Rimini Branch—now there are more than 95 members.
Alberto Sottili, president of the Firenze Second Branch, Florence Italy District, is a silver craftsman. He recognizes and treasures beautiful things. Each day in his shop in Florence, Italy, he creates jewelry—lovely necklaces, earrings, and brooches. “My shop is very simple—it is really just a laboratory,” he says. “I always wanted to be a musician, but I didn’t have enough money. So when I was 14, I worked in the summer and began learning to make gold jewelry.”
Three years later, at a time when his life seemed very unsettled and he was searching for direction, Alberto heard about something that brought peace and beauty to him. “God loves you,” said a relative who was a member of the Church. Alberto was so impressed by this simple statement that he consented to kneel and pray with him. “I felt an incredible peace inside after our prayer, and I felt that I should learn more about this church.”
When the elders began teaching the gospel to Alberto in 1972, they spoke to him about the purpose of life. “As I listened, I was touched by the fact that the ideas the missionaries were explaining to me were already familiar,” he recalls. One month later, Alberto was baptized.
Today—24 years later—Alberto’s life is still surrounded by beauty. For many years, he was a single parent to his two older daughters, Simona and Silvie. When they were 12 and 11 years old, he met a woman he soon married, Maria Teresa. They were sealed in the Swiss Temple and now have two more lovely daughters, Sara, 10, and Denise Gloria, 5. The older girls, now 23 and 22, have strong testimonies of the gospel. Simona reflects: “Thanks to the gospel, I am the person that I am. The gospel influences me each day of my life. Even though sometimes it is hard, I feel that the gospel brings me strength and freedom.”
Silvie, a student of painting and sculpture, says: “I am so thankful for my father—it is because of him that I was able to join the Church. … To me, the gospel is strength and help and everything in my life. The most important thing I know is that God loves me and listens to me.”
In Florence, Italy, a city renowned for beautiful treasures, Alberto Sottili talks of his own priceless treasures: “I think that everything good is from God. To keep our family together, we have to work, to pray, to have family home evening.”
Maria Teresa agrees: “I can’t imagine my life without the gospel. The gospel is my life!”
Like the Asiolis and the Sottilis, hundreds of other Italian pioneers in central Italy bear testimony of the beauty and joy the gospel has brought into their lives. Brother Massimo Lo Monaco of the Pisa Branch summarizes the feelings of other Latter-day Saints:
“We feel that our family is better prepared than our nonmember friends to face the economic, political, and social challenges that we may encounter. We have a precious gift—we have the gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches us principles of honesty and righteousness. We uphold the law, we pay our tithes and offerings, and we do what the Church leaders advise us to do. We know that we will be blessed in all things when we follow the commandments of God.”