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History of the Church in Italy
By David R. Crockett

Part III: 1966 - 1999

1966: Italian Mission reopened

During July-August, 1966 Elder Ezra Taft Benson created the Italian Mission with John Duns Jr. as President. The mission headquarters was established in Firenze (Florence). During his visit to Italy Elder Benson met with the U.S. Ambassador and the Italian Minister of Religon in Rome. Sister Wanda Duns recalled: "Much to the surprise of our group President Benson was greeted with open arms. It was evident he had the love and respect of both men and a friendly exchange took place, as well as assurance that our missionaries would be welcome to proselyte in Italy." (Dew, Sheri, Ezra Taft Benson, 377).

On 10 November 1966, on "Mount Brigham," Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Twelve rededicated Italy for the preaching of the gospel. He prophesied that thousands of Italians would be brought into the Church. One of the missionaries who witnessed this event was Kent Hauck. Kent recalled:

In the year 1966, President Benson met with all the Italian missionaries in the city of Torino. We boarded a bus and rode into the area where the Waldenses were known to live. President Benson looked at a secluded hillside and declared words to the effect that "this was the right place." We all climbed the hillside, knelt in prayer and the Italian Mission was rededicated to the preaching of the gospel, under the prayer and vision of President Benson. It was a wonderful moment.
Sister Wanda Dunns, wife of mission president John Duns, added:
As we traveled [Elder] Benson sat with his lap full of papers, scanning the territory and reading from a historical description of the first dedication. He was anxious to rededicate in as close a proximity to where [Lorenzo] Snow had stood. . . . Suddenly [Elder] Benson said, 'Stop here!' He got out of the car, pointed his finger up the mountain, and said, 'I think we'll climb right here.' About three-fourths of the distance to the top, [Elder] Benson stopped and waited for the rest of us to catch up. Then he announced, 'This is it, this is the spot!' (Dew, Sheri, Ezra Taft Benson, 390-91).
In 1966 there were two Italian branches and seven serviceman/Italian branches with 66 members. On November 18, 1966, Don Vincenzo Di Francesca died at Gesta Gratten (Palermo), Italy.

1966-1973: The Church grows; visit by the Prophet

During early November, 1966, the "Great Firenze Flood" struck Florence, Italy. Many of the local missionaries were stranded in their apartments for three days as the river Arno flooded the city.

In January 1967 the first primary was organized in Palermo with nine children. On March 27, 1967, the Catania Branch was established with Luigi Brucchieri as the first branch president. President Brucchieri had joined the Church in Germany, later moved back to Italy, and requested that missionaries be sent to Catania. ("Catania Italy Saints: Profiles of Faith," Ensign, July 1994).

During 1967 the Church established and Italian international magazine called "La Stella." This magazine reported that at the end of 1967 there were 149 missionaries serving in twenty-one cities. By May 1968 there were 260 Italian members of the Church. During April, Elder Ezra Taft again visited Italy and met with missionaries and members. By the end of the year there were five hundred members. (Italy Milan Mission History, alumni home page)

About 1968, Giuseppe Pasta, a young college student, felt there must be more to the gospel than he found in the Catholic Church. He went to work in a charity hospital and found "the pure love of Christ." One day he met two missionaries outside the hospital manning a street display. He began to study with the missionaries and after a long period joined the Church. When his family learned about his conversion they were devastated.

Friends presented him a petition, with hundreds of signatures, begging him to come back to the "true church." An interview was arranged for him with the cardinal of Turin, in the hope that the cleric could persuade him to change his mind. They became friends. Convinced at length that young Giuseppe was sincere in his beliefs, the cardinal counseled him to be true to them. (Searle, Don L. "Buon Giorno!" Ensign, July 1989).
Giuseppe Pasta was one of the pioneer members of the Church in Italy. He later served as president of the Italy Rome Mission.

During 1969 Hartman Rector Jr. of the Seventy served for a few months as president of the Italian Mission and then was followed by Leavitt Christensen. In 1969, the Language Training Center in Provo, Utah, was used for the first time to train missionaries in the Italian language. (Italy Milan Mission History, alumni home page)

In 1971 the Italian Mission was divided into the Italy North (later renamed to Italy Milan) and Italy South Mission (later renamed to Italy Rome). The South Mission's headquarters was in Rome. During that year Elder Howard W. Hunter assisted in negotiations for the Church to microfilm genealogical records in Italy.

On September 22, 1972, President Harold B. Lee, the president of the Church, visited Italy. He and his party, including Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, and their wives flew into Rome and arrived at their hotel late in the evening. Elder Hinckley felt very uncomfortable about the elaborate hotel suite that he had been booked into.

Early the next morning he went to the front desk to request a standard room. President Lee happened to walk by at that moment, and he asked his colleague what he was doing. 'I'm changing my room,' Elder Hinckley responded. 'The President of the Church deserves a suite, but I don't.' President Lee immediately responded, 'While you're changing your suite, change mine.' (Sheri Dew, Go Forward With Faith, 321-22).
During the morning they visited the Vatican and then spoke at a youth conference. Italian youth from the two missions gathered at a coastal resort town near Rome to hear the prophet speak. That evening the brethren spoke at a priesthood meeting while Sisters Lee and Hinckley addressed a meeting of sisters. On the following day they met with members of the Rome Branch. During the week, President Lee traveled to Florence, Pisa, and Milan, meeting with members and visiting historic places. His last meeting in Italy was at the Dow Chemical auditorium in Milan. President Lee and Elder Hinckley spoke to 140 missionaries. ("Italy Italia," Ensign, August 1973, and Gibbons, Harold B. Lee, 467).

During 1972 Church membership in Italy increased by twenty-five percent, and in 1973 there were 3,000 members. The two missions consisted of seven districts, including the islands of Sicily and Malta. The Italian missions at that time were among the fastest growing missions in Europe.

1973-1979: New missions; President Kimball tours Italy

In 1973 Mario Moro felt drawn to buy an unusual book in a bookstore. It was a copy of the Book of Mormon. He carried it everywhere to read. One day two missionaries came to his office and noticed the book. They were delighted to find out that he had already read it and was starting it over. They elder taught Mario and challenged him to be baptized. For a month Mario struggled with this decision.

Then one day he closed his office door and knelt in prayer to ask what to do. The answer was strong. He went immediately to the missionaries -- he doesn't remember being aware of anything around him until he arrived -- and they baptized him in the font they had kept filled for days, awaiting his decision. As soon as he was dry, Brother Moro was off to do member-missionary work with the elders that afternoon.("How They Came into the Church," Ensign, July 1989).
Brother Moro later, in 1989, served as second counselor in the presidency of the Sardinia District, Italy Rome Mission, and was the mission leader in the Sassari Branch.

In 1973 several Italian Saints journeyed to Munich, Germany, for the area conference of the Church. It was thrilling for them to hear the First Presidency speak and to hear and meet many other Church leaders. Luigi Pittino was one of these members who made the journey to the conference. He joined the Church in 1956 after being introduced to the gospel by two Italian members who met together for Sunday School. Elder J. Thomas Fyans later shared:

For 17 years Brother Pittino had met on Sunday with one or two other Saints. They would have an opening prayer, read and discuss the scriptures, and partake of the sacrament. In these last few years they were all in their 70's and 80's. There was loneliness and a feeling of isolation. Imagine the thrill for Brother Pittino to sit with 14,000 other Saints at the Munich conference! (General Conference, October 1974).
On June 8, 1974, Piera Bellaviti, a former nun, was baptized into the Church in Milan. She had met two missionaries on a bus who later visited her convent and presented her a copy of the Book of Mormon.

On July 27, 1974, property for the first meetinghouse in Italy was purchased in Pisa. It would serve the Saints in such cities as Livorno, Pistoia, and Florence. The Saints began to rally around organizing projects for a building fund. (Ensign, December 1974).

During the fall, 1974, the BYU baseball team went on a four-city Italian tour that had been arranged by Bruno Gerzeli, the coach of the BYU soccer team. The baseball team was composed of students from eleven countries. The tour promoted favorable attention to both the school and the Church.

On July 1, 1975, a third mission was created in Italy -- the Italy Padova Mission. A year later, in July 1977 a fourth mission was created. The Italy Rome was split to form the Italy Catania Mission. The headquarters of this mission was located on the Mediterranean island of Sicily.

In August 1977 President Spencer W. Kimball toured seven European nations including Italy. On August 16, President Kimball met with 800 members and investigators in Milan. He spoke about the basic principles of the gospel using the Articles of Faith. He said, "We are all sons and daughters of God and the gospel is free to all men. But we must live according to the laws of Christ. We cannot change the program to suit our convenience." ("Pres. Kimball ends tour of 7 countries, Church News, September 3, 1977).

Richard Weeks was a missionary at this meeting. He recalled hearing the prophet say that Italy would "blossom as a rose" and that missionary work would at some future time accelerate dramatically. President Kimball also held an afternoon meeting at the mission home with the missionaries.

President Kimball next visited Padova and spoke to 1,000 people about the importance of the Book of Mormon. He counseled the members to support the laws and authorities of the country. Missionaries were not to get involved in any political discussions. "With these teachings in mind, we feel governments everywhere should open their doors to our missionaries." (Church News, September 3, 1977).

On August 18, the national television station covered an evening meeting in Rome. President Kimball said, "There are larger churches, but none are growing as fast as ours. We have some four million members, more than when Jesus was upon the earth." (Ibid.)

The last city he visited in Italy was Catania. On August 19 he held a special meeting with the missionaries. "This is a million-year mission. When you go home you work for the Lord. As soon as you get home, go visit your bishop and say, 'I'm home and ready to serve.'" (Ibid.)

By 1978 there were 7,271 members in Italy.

1980-1987: Stakes established

On August 2, 1980 a terrorist bomb exploded in a Bologna, Italy train station, killing eight people and injuring two hundred others. Three BYU students were seriously injured including Peter Bergstrom of Sweden [former missionary companion of Dave Crockett.] Twelve full-time missionaries in Bologna were assigned to help with clean up efforts and to assist the injured.

On June 7, 1981, President Ezra Taft Benson of the Twelve organized the first stake in Italy -- the Milan Italy Stake. Mario Vaira was called to serve as the first stake president. A two-story rented building was used for the new stake center.

In 1982 the Italy Padova Mission was absorbed back into the Italy Milan and Italy Rome missions, leaving three missions in Italy.

On August 31, 1982, President John Lahaderne, from San Francisco, California, president of the Italy Catania Mission died. President Gillespie, from Rome came to the mission for a week to handle arrangements and mission duties. Soon Samuel Boren, former president of the Italy Milan Mission, arrived to serve as temporary president for several months. In January 1983, President Norman Turner came to preside. "Upon his arrival in early 1983, President Turner quickly settled in and won the affection and respect of members and missionaries alike. This closed the chapter on an upsetting and unsettling time for the mission." (David Pimentel, from the Italy Catania Mission home page.)

In 1984 a conference of the Church was held in Milan, presided over by Russell M. Nelson, new member of the Twelve. A leadership meeting was held Saturday night. A general session was held the following Sunday morning in an old theater. The visiting General Authorities used translators to assist them. During Elder Nelson's address, he excused the translator and announced that he wished to address the congregation in Italian. Chris J. Frogley, a Chiropractor in the town of Perugia at that time, witnessed this event. He wrote:

For the next fifteen minutes Elder Nelson addressed the congregation in perfect Italian. To those of us that were Americans he spoke grammatically correct but was obviously an American speaking in good Italian. The spirit was electrifying and we knew that we were experiencing a rare experience of the gift of tongues. While speaking to the members the next Sunday in church we mentioned the choice experience of the conference. They quickly agreed expressing their delight at having experienced such a miracle but what was amazing to them was that Elder Nelson, to them, had spoken without an accent! Not only grammatically correct, but no American accent.
Milena Montrasio gained a strong testimony of the gospel while participating in the missionary discussions. Her husband also sat through the discussions but he showed no interest in religion. When Milena said that she planned to be baptized, he threatened to leave her. Milena said she would not be baptized in the Church but said, "I will live as if I were baptized, because the testimony I have received is too strong to deny." Her husband's heart was softened and he again listened to the missionary discussions. In 1985 the Montrasios were baptized. Brother Montrasio later served as bishop of the Monza Ward. Sister Montrasio has served as the Young Women president. (Searle, Don L. "How they came into the Church" Ensign, July 1989).

In 1985 the Venice Italy Stake was organized, the second stake in Italy. Claudio E. Luttmann was called as the president. By 1985 there were 12,000 members of the Church in Italy.

Doctor Mario Ottaviano of Rome, was a noted researcher in biophysical genetic engineering. He considered himself to be an atheist but was looking for a Church for his children to be associated so they would no longer be taunted by schoolmates. His methodical search occupied many months. A friend from Naples gave him some Church literature. The information instructed him to pray for answers. "No one had ever told me you should kneel down to pray, but I did it spontaneously. So then I began to search for this church. Where was the Mormon church?"

He found the address for the local LDS chapel, visited there one Sunday morning, and was introduced to the missionaries. He asked them to come teach his children but warned them that he and his wife were not interested in religion. The missionaries taught the children but Dr. Ottaviano declined invitations by the missionaries to participate. Finally he started to read the Book of Mormon. "The more I read, the more terrorized I was, because it was as though the voices of my ancestors came out of those pages." He subjected the Book of Mormon to various intellectual tests. He even read all of it in a twelve hour period. He took segments to learned scholars, not telling them about the origin of the text. They concluded that the words were of ancient origin.

On December 4, 1986, his two daughters were baptized. At that time Dr. Ottaviano met mission president Dwight B. Williams for the first time. President Williams had many long discussions with him. Dr. Ottaviano became so earnest in his investigation of the Church that he quit his job while he studied. One day President Williams told him that he had studied long enough, it was time to seek help from the Holy Ghost. Doctor Ottaviano agreed. During a missionary discussion he was frustrating a sister missionary so much that she slammed to Book of Mormon down on the table in disgust. It pained him to see her treat the Word of God that way. At that point he knew he had his answer, he knew the Book of Mormon was true. The following day he set a baptismal date with President Williams and he was baptized on March 18, 1987. His wife was baptized two months later. ("The Book Convinced Him," Ensign March 1990)

1988-1993: Church gains recognition

In 1988 the Church released the award winning film, "How Rare a Possession -- The Book of Mormon" which featured the conversion story of Vincenzo Di Francesca.

In 1989 the Ensign magazine featured the Saints in Italy in its July issue. It reported on a recent stake conference held in Milan in a large rented theater. The mayor of Milan visited the meeting and spoke briefly about his warm feelings toward the Italian church members. The other stake in Italy was the Venice stake, led by President Claudio E. Luttmann who had to travel nearly one hundred miles from his home to the stake center. The Ensign further reported:

Some members and leaders turn to Italy's efficient, modern trains to travel to meetings and activities, spending many hours en route. Others may go by car, but gasoline is very expensive; it can cost well over fifty-five thousand lire (more than forty U.S. dollars) to fill the tank of a medium-sized Fiat. How do they pay the cost? "Faith does, many times, what money and the pocketbook cannot," President Luttmann answers, smiling. (Searle, Don L. "Buon Giorno!" Ensign, July 1989).
During 1989 Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy spoke to a gathering of 270 people at the Siracusa Branch chapel, in the Catania District. The congregation included government officials and media representatives. Elder Asay testified of Joseph Smith, the First Vision, and the Book of Mormon. Government officials expressed gratitude for the Church's positive influence in the area. Later in the year, the Relief Society leaders in the Catania District helped organize Italy's first National Poem Competition. (Ensign, May, 1989 and October 1989)

During 1990, the Italy Padova Mission was recreated from the Italy Milan and Italy Rome missions, bringing the total number of missions back to four. The new mission consisted of 3,000 members. Vincenzo Conforte was called as the mission president. He had previously served for three years as president of the Italy Catania Mission. In 1990 there were 14,000 members in Italy.

In 1991 the Church News featured a family living in the historic Piedmont Valley, where the gospel had been introduced to Italy 141 years earlier. Gianni and Bruna Berzano D'Amore and their children were the only members living in Torre Pellice. They attended the Torino Branch. Brother D'Amore said, "It is exciting to live in the area where the Church was started in Italy. We often take missionaries or visitors to Mount Brigham where President Lorenzo Snow dedicated the land. Growth has not been great, but big blessings have come to our lives." ("Family enjoys living near historic Italy site," Church News, October 5, 1991).

During early 1992 President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency, his wife Marjorie, and Elder Spencer J. Condie of the Seventy visited the Vatican. They were in Europe for a regional conference. They met with Reverand Leonard Boyle, prefect of the Vatican Library, and presented the library with a set of the five-volume Encyclopedia of Mormonism. (Ensign, May 1992).

In 1993 Mario V. Vaira was called as the president of the Swiss Temple. President Vaira had previously served as the first stake president of the Milan Italy Stake. He had also served as president of the Italy Catania Mission.

Also during that year, the Church in Italy was officially granted legal status after many years of negotiation. This act granted to the Church the right to own property and local leaders were authorized to perform marriages. Elder Spencer J Condie explained: "The neighbors and business associates of Italian members of the Church in 58 regions of the country were interviewed by the police regarding what kind of people the Italian Mormons are. The reports came back unanimously positive and this was part of the basis for the legal recognition. Our Latter-day Saints are a credit to their country and are outstanding citizens." ("Milestone reached in Italy; Church gains legal status," Church News, June 12, 1993).

Missionary work in Italy was slow but sure. During 1992 there were about 70 baptisms in the Italy Rome Mission, with about 150 missionaries. In 1993 the number increased to 99.

1993-1997: Church coming out of "obscurity"

In December, 1993, a missionary choir performed at a Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. In early December a group of elders decided to go to Vatican Square to sing Christmas carols. A "fairly reasonable" crowd gathered to listen and some nuns encouraged the group to move closer to the pope's window. The police stopped the choir and explained they needed a permit to sing on the square. That evening President Parker of the Italy Rome Mission and two elders went to the Vatican offices to obtain the necessary permit. The Vatican Music Chairman helped them select hymns. During the coming week, all the missionaries in the Rome area met together for several practices, and the following Sunday evening they went to the square.

Full-time missionary, Elder Flandro recalled, "President Parker anticipated that we would probably be singing in some small chapel in an obscure part of the Basilica, where a Sunday evening Christmas Mass was about to begin." But their expectations were greatly exceeded. "We were lined up according to the parts we would be singing and were then led into the choir box adjacent to a large organ console similar in appearance to that in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. We were the only choir for this Christmas Mass, and at prescribed times during the service, we stood and sang four different Christmas carols, all in Italian: 'Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful'; 'Hark! the Herald Angels Sing'; 'Silent Night' and Joy to the World.'" The Vatican music chairman thanked the missionaries and they presented him with a tape of the Tabernacle Choir. ("Missionary choir sings in the Vatican," Church News, January 15, 1994).

During the summer of 1994 the BYU men's basketball team, coached by Roger Reid, went on a five-game European tour. During their stay, they visited Rome, Florence and Venice. The Church News reported: "The tall Cougars were noticeable wherever they went, including a humorous incident at the Vatican. BYUs tour guide was interrupted by a fellow guide who relayed an Italian message that these tall people were blocking others' view of 'Pieta,' Michelangelo's statue portraying Mary cradling Jesus after the crucifixion." ("2 wins and many memories for BYU on European tour," Church News, September 10, 1994).

In August 1994 missionaries of the Italy Rome Mission started hosting a weekly radio program in Ascoli. The 45-minute program aired on Saturday morning and was called, "Per Saperne Di Piu" (To Know More About It). They shared basic gospel principles and information about the Book of Mormon. The first branch in Ascoli was organized in December, 1994, with eleven members.

In August, 1995, Raimondo Castellani of Milan was called as an area authority. Elder Castellani had previously served as a Regional Representative in Italy and as stake president of the Milan Italy Stake.

In 1995 there were about 16,500 members in Italy.

In 1996 the Torino District, in northwestern Italy, held an anniversary celebration to recognize thirty years of the gospel in Torino. Festivities included an inauguration ceremony, numerous cultural and recreational activities, a performance by BYU's "Lamanite Generation," and the district's semiannual conference. Leone Michelini, his wife, Almerina, and their two children were the first to be baptized in 1964. Meetings were held in the Michelini home. In 1996 the church in Torino had grown to five branches and two chapels. ("Members celebrate 30 years of gospel in Torino, Italy," Church News, November 1, 1996.)

On October 22, 1996, President Leone Flosi of the Rome Italy Mission and his wife, Jeanne, met with the President of Italy, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, in the Quirinale Palace. The meeting lasted about thirty minutes. President Flosi said: "We presented him a framed Proclamation on the Family, which he placed on his credenza, then we got involved in a gospel discussion and talked another fifteen minutes." These two men had previously been acquainted when President Flosi worked for the U.S. government as legal attache and President Scalfaro served in the cabinet of the Italian government. Shortly after becoming the mission president, President Flosi wrote a congratulatory letter to President Scalfaro on his election as president. Shortly after, the Flosis were invited to visit the grand palace. President Flosi said, "That we could meet with the president of Italy is evidence that the Church is coming out of obscurity. This meeting would not have been possible a few years ago." ("Mission president visits with Italian leader," Church News, December 7, 1996).

On March 9, 1997 the Puglia Italy Stake, the third stake in Italy was created by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Seventy. It was created from the Puglia Italy District. Giovanni Carlo Dicarolo was called to be the stake president.

On March 14-15, 1997, Church leaders in Italy assisted with the evacuation of thirty-five missionaries from Albania because of civil unrest in that country. They were airlifted by helicopter and transported aboard a U.S. Navy ship across the Adriatic Sea to Brindisi, Italy. Elders Neil L. Andersen and F. Enzio Busche of the Seventy went to Brindisi to meet with the missionaries. Brindisi was part of the newly created Puglia Italy Stake. Elder Busche told the missionaries that they were "safe in a stake of Zion." On Monday the missionaries were taken to Rome. Some left for new mission assignments that day, while others awaited assignments elsewhere. ("'Reluctant refugees' leave Albania," Church News, March 22, 1997).

1997-1999: Pioneer Caravan; Tabernacle Choir Tour

During April 1997 General Conference, Elder Raimondo Castellani, of Milan, was sustained as a member of the Third Quorum of Seventy. Also during this conference, President Monson shared an experience he had in Italy around 1977.

A visible and tender act of fellowshiping was witnessed in the ancient city of Rome. Some years ago, Sister Monson and I met with over 500 members there in a district conference. The presiding officer at that time was Leopoldo Larcher, a wonderful Italian. His brother had been working as a guest employee in the auto plants in Germany when two missionaries taught him the gospel. He went back to Italy and taught the gospel to his brother. Leopoldo accepted and sometime later became the president of the Italy Rome Mission and then the Italy Catania Mission.

During that meeting, I noticed that in the throng were many who were wearing a white carnation. I said to Leopoldo, "What is the significance of the white carnation?" He said, "Those are new members. We provide a white carnation to every member who has been baptized since our last district conference. Then all the members and the missionaries know that these people are especially to be fellowshiped."

On July 13, 1997, a very unusual sight was seen parading through the streets of Rome. Members organized a pioneer parade with horse-drawn wagons to recognize the sesquicentennial celebration. Italo Pannone, a member for less then three years said, "I have the feeling that I'm a pioneer, too. That feeling has had such an impact on me that when they asked me to be a part of this event, I put myself into it with big emotions." Elder Raimondo Castellani, Area Authority Seventy, said, "This celebration, which was promoted and developed by the members in Rome, is their statement that they have planted the gospel deep in their hearts and they have a sense of their own purpose in their pioneering labors here." Mission President Leone Flosi commented, "Rome is the only major western European city where a stake is not organized. The members in this city want to have a stake and the pioneer parade was a kind of rallying cry. It was a way of saying - we can do it."

The Church News reported on the procession: "The pioneer caravan included the five wagons representing the pioneers, followed by the American Folk Ensemble, and the Blue Grass Band from Ricks College. The singing Goodman family of Salt Lake City, also participated. . . . Church members from around the country traveled to Rome to join in the procession. Missionaries walked the parade route while talking with spectators and giving short discussions. The caravan took two hours to wind through Romes famous streets and around the ancient edifices, including the scarred face of the coliseum, the decaying remains of the Forum, and pausing for a moment in the Piazza Venezia, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where members joined in a spontaneous rendition of 'We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.'" ("Overcoming odds, wagons trek down streets of Rome," Maurine J. Proctor, Church News, July 19, 1997.)

In July 1997, members in Italy participated in the Church-wide Pioneer Heritage Service Day. Members of the Cagliari Branch helped nuns of the Order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta fix and serve food to needy people. In the Como district about eighty members cleaned a public garden near Como Lake. In Milan members picked up garbage, removed weeds, and planted trees in a city park. (Ensign, October, 1997).

During June, 1998, the Tabernacle Choir performed an historic concerts in Italy. The choir had two performances, one in Turin on June 20, and another at Accademia Santa Caecilia, in Rome on June 22. At the end of the concert in Rome, the audience sprang from their seats to give a standing ovation. They cheered and shouted, "Bis! Bis!" (Italian for encore.) Sister Maren Byrnes, a missionary in the Italy Rome Mission, said:

It was amazing. I love Italy; part of my heart is here, and this choir is also part of my heart. There are a lot of members who came to the concert, and they don't have a lot of money, so they went to a great expense to come. They're pioneers of the Church here. To hear the Tabernacle Choir sing about a pioneer experience and to sing that pioneer song, "Come, Come, Ye Saints" in Italian was incredible.
Elder Gene R. Cook commented:
There was outstanding news coverage. The choir has been playing on radio across all Italy the last couple of days. . . . Theyre waiting for it to be on television, which is supposed to happen in the next week or so. There were two reporters at that reception who approached some of our missionaries to get some news from them, quizzing them, asking them some questions. Those reporters have had two missionary discussions so far. There were 1,900 at the concert. ("Choir tour: 'a missionary journey,'" Church News, July 11, 1998.)
Italy Rome Mission President Leone J. Flosi said:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been under a cloud of obscurity in Rome. Even though the Church has continued in its missionary efforts here for more thirty years, it has remained relatively unknown by the general public and public officials. The wonderful spirit that the choir brought with it touched the hearts of numerous individuals, and many journalists and other prominent figures sought out our missionaries after the concert and were able to arrange with them to hear the standard discussions of the Church. ("Tabernacle Choir edifies, inspires many at concerts," Church News, July 18, 1998.)
Franco Messina, adviser to the President of Italy, attended the concert and was very impressed. He arranged for Church leaders to meet with President Scalfaro in December 1998. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Seventy presented the Italian president with a copy of the Book of Mormon and a porcelain statue of the family. President Scalfaro expressed his interest in the Church's support of families. ("Italian president greets leaders," Church News, January 9, 1999.)

At the end of 1998 there were more than 18,000 Church members in Italy.

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