“Meet the Italian Saints,” Ensign, June 2014
If you ever visit Italy, you may have the chance to attend a sacrament meeting with the Italian Saints. The country has about a hundred wards and branches. In Genoa, your walk to church might take you through the maze of streets in the city center, past the Piazza De Ferrari, to the second floor of an office building. You’ll have no trouble finding a meeting in Rome, where the Church has chapels in three different parts of the city. If you find yourself near L’Aquila, you’ll go to a beautiful new chapel on Via Avezzano, since the old chapel was destroyed by an earthquake in 2009.
Whichever branch or ward you visit, when you sit down in the chapel and sing the opening hymn with the Italian Saints, you’ll feel their faith. These members live in an area where Mormons are almost unheard of, a country steeped in the traditions of another religion. Of the 25,000 members in Italy today, more than half were baptized since 1986—so the person sitting next to you is likely a convert. If you ask that person what brought him or her into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you may hear a story like one of the following. These are the experiences and testimonies of three faithful Italian members.
Paola Fava has been a member of the Church for 10 years. Her home is in Genoa, a beautiful port city on the northwestern shore of Italy that is famous for being the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and of a traditional Italian food called pesto. Her husband passed away in 2009. She has a little dog, Bak, and she stays busy serving in the Church and doing family history. Here is her conversion story.
A number of years ago, I knew a girl who worked at the London branch of the same company I worked for. She was brilliant in her job and delightful as a friend. I didn’t know she was a Mormon. For many years we kept in touch by letter, and every time she said that she had a lot of work to do for her church, I never understood what sort of work it might be. Then one day she wrote that she was doing “baptisms for the dead,” and this made me curious.
Some years passed, and I went to see her in England. One day during my visit, we sat on the grass and she asked me if we could talk a little bit about God. “How strange,” I thought, but I told her yes. She said to me, “Did you know that a boy in America found plates of gold that told the story of ancient Americans to whom Jesus Christ appeared?” She told me that the boy was also given the message to restore on the earth the ancient Church of Jesus Christ, and he did this despite many difficulties.
This message struck me profoundly. I felt it was indeed true, and that night at her house, I found a copy of the Book of Mormon on the nightstand. But I didn’t want to involve myself with a different church at that time, even though I didn’t feel spiritually well.
One day in another letter she told me that her husband had become a member of her church and things had never been better. “OK, I really must get to know this church!” I said to myself. I called the mission office and arranged to meet with the sister missionaries.
After I received the lessons, I entered the waters of baptism. I shed many tears and felt immense joy, and I experienced innumerable blessings, which continue to this day. My conversion was the fruit of the patience and perseverance of a special friend. She had conviction that her message would deeply impress my heart. I experienced a great change in my life, and I am finally happy in the faith, truly knowing who I am, where I come from, and especially where I want to go.
Valentina Aranda, 33 years old, feels blessed to have lived all her life in the same neighborhood in Rome, a city loved throughout the world for its history and art. Her family comes from many different parts of Italy, which enriches her life with varied traditions. She had a promising career in marketing that she set aside to be a full-time mother to her two daughters. Below she shares the story of her conversion at age 21.
It all started with the Book of Mormon, which I saw in my friend’s library. The book made me very curious, and I felt drawn to it. One day I picked it up and began reading it—but it didn’t make sense to me. I told this to my friend’s mother, who said that I should pray before I read it.
The next evening, I prayed and started reading at the beginning of the book. It seemed to be a different book from what I had read the day previous, and I felt something I had never felt before. I talked about it with my friend and told her I would like to go with her family to church the next Sunday.
When I arrived at the church, I immediately felt at home. It was fast and testimony Sunday, and a very strong spirit descended upon me. I’ll never forget that Sunday. That morning I met the missionaries, who began helping me to know the truth. Those two angels were a great gift, and they are still dear friends today.
But my belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet was the greatest, strongest, and firmest testimony I had. I knew right away that he was a prophet of God and that a great mission was entrusted to him, and after the lesson with the missionaries where I learned about the Restoration, I decided to be baptized. Five weeks after my first time attending church, I entered the waters of baptism. How exciting it was!
The Church gave me a new life. I am happy and secure in my decision; I am sealed to my husband and daughters; I have new friends, the truth, the scriptures, the temple, and knees that now know how to kneel to pray.
I await with anticipation the temple here in Rome. I know that it will be a great blessing for me and for many, many brothers and sisters who are waiting for it.
Angelo Melone lives with his family in L’Aquila, a small city founded in medieval times near the center of Italy. He works as the anti-fraud director of the customs office in L’Aquila, a job that he enjoys very much. The most precious thing in his life, he says, is his family. His wife, Elizabete, is from Brazil, and they have two daughters—Naomi, 11, and Michela Alessandra, 19. He was baptized when he was 18 years old.
Every time I remember my conversion, I thank the Lord for helping me meet the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I was born and grew up at Ortona dei Marsi, a tiny village near the National Park of Abruzzo, in the province of L’Aquila. When I was 18, the missionaries contacted my sister. At that time she was studying medicine at the University of Chieti and living in Pescara, where there was a branch of the Church. She received the missionary lessons and decided to be baptized.
I came to know the missionaries as I occasionally went to visit my sister. I was an obstinate person, and I tried to use the Bible to prove that the Church’s doctrine was in error. I read almost all the publications of the Church—but I didn’t succeed in detecting any contradictions. Instead I learned the story of the Restoration and the marvelous experience of the First Vision. I learned about the concept of a testimony and felt a desire to have one.
One Sunday, I said to the branch president in Pescara that I would never be baptized into the Church; but inside me I knew something was changing. That week, I opened my copy of the Book of Mormon and a list of questions glued to the inside front cover caught my eye. I stopped on this question: “How can I develop faith?” The list said I could find the answer in Alma 32, where the word of God is compared to a seed.
As I studied the passage, I realized that if I wanted to receive a testimony, I had to change my attitude. My heart was a plot of ground that had to be weeded. I needed to abandon all my prejudices and misconceptions about the Church, and then I could try the experiment. I sought to plant the seed in my heart—I knelt down and prayed to know if the Church had been restored and if the Book of Mormon really was the result of this Restoration. The Spirit I felt helped me to know that the Church of Jesus Christ was on the earth again. I was baptized August 10, 1978.
The following years were exciting. I had to travel—10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on foot and about three hours by train—to get to church. But it was well worth the effort! Those little sacrifices brought much joy and many blessings in my life: my marriage with Elizabete in the São Paulo Temple in 1990, and the birth of two marvelous daughters, Michela and Naomi.