One of the very first members from Pisa (1967)
First Italian President of the Pisa Branch (1971)
(A speech given, in Italian, at the All Italian Missions Reunion, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 31, 2000)
It is an honor for me to stand before you; above all, the
Elders. You have taken me back many years to the time when the missionaries
first knocked on my door. Please permit me to speak in Italian because my
English is about zero for now. I will do my best.
It has been truly a wonderful opportunity to meet again the Elders from thirty-three years ago. Saying this will reveal to you their age, but I tell you because there have been many Elders I have known who have returned to Italy as Mission Presidents. It is a great honor to know these persons. I will tell you a little of the conversion of my family when the Elders came knocking at my door, the first contact we had with the missionaries.
We hardly knew anything of the Mormon Church. We knew that the Mormons existed in cowboy films, but we didn't know anything else about the Church or the people. I remember coming home from work one evening in 1966, and finding the missionaries knocking on our door. From then begins our conversion to the Church. They came in the afternoon, and we found out later that they were from the Swiss Mission, because there wasn't a Mission in Italy at the time. The first question was, as I have told you, whether we knew who the Mormons were. We said that we knew that they were in cowboy films. They then asked what we knew of Jesus Christ. We were almost offended, because we thought we knew almost everything about Him. We were embarassed, later, to find that we really knew very little about Him. They asked at the end of our short visit if they could return the next day and teach us one of the discussions. We made the appointment for that afternoon at four, but we decided that we would be certain not to be at home at that time to avoid seeing them. We returned at eight, and to our surprise, there were the two Elders, waiting at the door for us. They had been waiting for us for four hours! Their patience and constancy were evident, and touched us. We invited them in, and had a conversation about the Mormon Church, and the life or Jesus Christ. We came to the realization that we really didn't know much about Him.
After this first discussion with the Elders, our relationship with the Church began. It wasn't long before my wife decided to be baptized. At that time I found myself having to deal with the problems of smoking. It was after a few months that I overcame that obstacle and I was also baptized. These two Elders who taught us showed us many imporant things, especially the Elder who baptized my wife. Thirty years later he showed up at the Chapel in Pisa, having been sent there by his employer. We hadn't heard anything from him in all this time. When we met him he said: "I came here with the hope that I would find the Tolaini family still active in the Church." He told us that he had written about us in his diary. These were his words: "The Tolaini family of Pisa, with their baptism have shown that it is time to open the first Mission in Italy. In fact, the first Mission in Italy was opened in the city of Florence. Two missionaries before us came from Switzerland to teach the people of Italy and see whether they were ready for the restored Gospel. They found very few people that were truly interested. - They wrote down the addresses of the homes they visited, including the address of the house that would later become our home.- Unfortulately, no one was ready to accept the gospel or to be baptized, so the president of the Swiss Mission called them back, and for a while Italy was without missionaries. Then in October 1966 my companion and I arrived in Italy. Using the trackting book from the other missionaries we found the families they visited before." They stopped at the home where a family had shown some interest before, but the name was wrong. They found our name instead. They spoke with us and felt in their hearts that we would accept the Gospel.
In time the missionaries said that their Mission President called and spoke with them, telling them that they would soon have to return to Swizterland because there were no good prospects for converts to the Restored Gospel in Italy. The Elder said: "The Spirit suggested that we ask for a few more days in Italy. The time was granted, and we were told that if they had not found anyone ready to accept the Gospel, we would have had to return to Switzerland." My family and I were the persons that the Elders found. This missionary, Elder Rick Douglas returned to Pisa in 1996 to visit, and as you know, that Pisa was the first city to have its own chapel. When this Elder saw the chapel he was moved to tears, and said, smiling: "All this is here in 1996 because that day, long ago, you heard the voice of the Spirit, and you responded." I told him: "You waited for us for four hours. This was no small thing!"
As you have seen, our conversion was a special one, because, through this the first Mission was opened in Italy. Today there are many members, many missions. Thanks to the work of these early Elders (now Mission Presidents) that had truly planted many seeds. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to have my knowledge of the Church. We know well how important it is to have this knowledge to live day to day, trying to strengthen each other to live the Gospel. I am grateful for the work that was done before, and for the work that is being done now. The Church in Italy will experience much growth in the future.
I have lived in Bountiful,[Utah] for three years now. I am happy to be here. My family and I are enjoying many blessings, and the windows of heaven have been opened to us with blessings. My wife and I are currently serving a mission at Temple Square. We have great opportunities there. To conclude, I would like to read three lines that former President Lombardo of the Italy Milan Mission gave during the dedicatory prayer for the chapel in Turin. He said:
"O Father, wouldst thou give us the guidance of Thy Spirit while we are meeting here today. We recognize the gift of the Holy Ghost that guides us in the direction of Thy eternal truths and the fact that accepeting and following the truths, and purifying and perfecting our lives, we can become worthy to stand without spot before Thee at the last day."These words have been in my heart and I am grateful to him for sharing these words with me.
I leave you my testimony with you that I know that the Church is true, as each of you know that we have the truth. If we will work to keep the commandments, we are assured, we have the certain promise that God has given us, that one day we will find ourselves in His presence. We will have the opportunity to have the blessings He has promised us. I leave you this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
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