FROM September 18 to December 19, 1959 it was the privilege of Guiseppe Cupertino, ministerial secretary of the Southern European Division, and the writer to assist our consecrated Italian ministers in an evangelistic campaign in the cities of Milan (about 1,000,000 inhabitants) and Turin (about 800,000 inhabitants) in the northwestern part of Italy.
For more than six months prior to the campaign, the brethren in both cities tried to rent a suitable hall, but were unsuccessful because the managers were afraid they would encounter difficulties with the dominant church authorities, and that the buildings might even be attacked. So there was no other solution than to hold the public lectures in our own church halls.
In Milan we have our own church building. From the outside it has the appearance of an apartment house, but the interior is arranged as an Adventist church, with a seating capacity of about 330. The membership is about 130.
In Turin the brethren meet in a store with a small storeroom at the back. The owner is a Jewish friend, and that is the only reason our people were able to rent that property and turn it into church quarters.
Historical Setting of Milan.—Milan and Turin are the industrial nerve centers of Italy, but Milan was also the scene of many interesting events in church history. There is the plaza called San Lorenzo where one can see an array of eighteen columns, which according to tradition were erected by the Emperor Augustus Caesar during the time of the infancy of Christ. Between these columns and the Basilica of San Lorenzo stands a monument of Emperor Con-stantine upon the exact spot where, in a.d. 313, he issued the Edict of Tolerance for the Christians in the Roman Empire, declaring them a legal body and stating that all persecution against them should cease.
Milan was also the seat of the famous church father, Saint Ambrose, who died in a.d. 397. Once when the army of the powerful emperor of the East, Theodosius, passed through Thessa-lonica, some of his soldiers were cruelly killed by the populace. In revenge, Theodosius had seven thousand of its inhabitants killed. When on a later date he arrived with his army in Milan, he went to the Basilica of Saint Ambrose with the purpose of giving homage to God. But Ambrose, with the cross in his hand, standing at the entrance of the patio that led to the sanctuary, defied the emperor and forbade him to enter the temple, because his heart was full of sin and his hands saturated with the blood of the Thessalonians. This defiance of the bishop helped to pave the way for the future temporal power of the pontiffs, who, as it were, placed their feet on the necks of the emperors. During the Middle Ages an impressive picture commemorating this episode was painted on one of the interior walls of the Basilica of Saint Ambrose.
There is also the world-famous cathedral of Milan. It is 486 feet long and 289 feet wide. The cathedral is adorned inside and outside with 4,400 statues and images of Christ, the apostles, saints, popes, and bishops, mostly in marble. A beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, 357 feet above the ground, stands on the top tower of the cathedral. The second bronze door from the left of the front entrance is dedicated to Constantine, with the inscription "The Peace Edict of Constantine."
The Evangelistic Campaign
The spiritual leader and translator of the campaign was the secretary of the Southern European Division, Guiseppe Cupertino. His perfect and enthusiastic translation encouraged the people to continue coming three times a week in each city for more than three months. On two nights we had lectures and on one night a Bible class each week in each city.
Dr. Gianfranco Rossi, the Italian Union religious liberty secretary, made a valuable contribution as administrator and sound financial manager. Franco Sabatino, departmental secretary of the union, was the public relations man of the team. He prepared the handbills, as well as the newspaper advertisements and reports of the lectures, with expert skill. In Turin four workers under the leadership of the pastor, D. Verona, were the soul winners, with the loyal help of the church members.
In Milan seven ministers under the leadership of Visigali Domenico were the visiting team for the great city. The members of the church gave their wholehearted support to the work of soul winning. Also Elders M. Nazarian from Beirut, Lebanon, and A. Bueno from Spain gave their undivided assistance. The presidents of the Southern European Division and the Italian Union, M. Fridlin and G. Cavalcante, inspired the teams by supplying sufficient means and heartfelt encouragement. Weekly classes on pastoral problems were given by G. Cupertino, and I conducted the classes in evangelism. The lectures were given under the auspices of "Centra de Orientamento Vita Nuora," a name in full harmony with our message and high ideals. The campaign was held in the form of , lectures, without prayer or congregational singing. These would have been impediments, as it is a "mortal sin" for most of the people to attend religious meetings not of the dominant church. But after a few nights, having won the people's confidence, we offered prayers, and a little later our hymns were sung, but mostly by soloists.
A number of persons who afterward accepted the truth told us that they would never have attended these meetings if they had known they were sponsored by the so-called "heretics." They thanked us for the way we conducted the meetings, which broke down their prejudice, softened their hearts, and made them see the beauties of the truth of the Word of God.
On Sabbath, December 19, thirty-one souls were baptized, the first fruits of the campaign. It was the greatest single baptism ever witnessed in our work in Italy. After the baptism a call was made and another thirty-one manifested their desire to join the church through baptism as taught in the Bible. Since then, a further group of fourteen persons have been baptized, and before long the goal of seventy-five baptisms will be reached. The following statement from the Spirit of Prophecy gave continual inspiration to the workers, and a sense of success in this soul-winning campaign:
The angel that joins the third angel is to lighten the earth with his glory. There will he many, even in these valleys (in northern Italy), where the work seems to start with such difficulty, who will recognize the voice of God speaking to them through His Word, and, coming out from under the influence of the clergv, will take their stand for God and the truth. This field is not an easy one in which to labor. . . . but there is an honest people here who xnll obey in time.—-Evangelism, p. 424.
The ministers, after having witnessed the encouraging results of the new methods demonstrated in the School of Evangelism, returned to their respective fields with the determination to follow the same approach in their soul-winning endeavors.
Some time before the campaign, Elder Cupertino and I went to Turin to visit and make preliminary preparations for the meetings. On that Monday night we had arranged to speak to the church members, just to familiarize them with the plans for the coming campaign. But a number of church members brought friends to hear "that man from America," so I was forced to change my subject. At the end of the meeting I felt impressed to make an altar call. At once, a woman came quickly forward and knelt in prayer before us, and the rest of the congrega-f'on followed her example. It was touching; the Holy Spirit was guiding.
Why had that woman come forward? Here is the story. Her son, a handsome young man, had accepted the Adventist truth two years before. Since that time, with the help of the priest, she had tried by every means to get this young man to return to the "only true church that alone can save."
Just the previous Friday morning the mother, in another effort to separate her son from his faith, took his Bible and hid it. When he came home in the late afternoon, he looked for his Bible, but was unable to find it. He asked his mother, but she said that she knew nothing of its whereabouts. He searched his own room again and the whole house, but without success.
That night as he went to bed he asked the Lord to help him find his Bible, because it contained so many valuable notes. During the night, an angel appeared to him in a vision and said: "Your mother took your Bible. She has hidden it under the mattress of her bed. You will find your Bible there." Next morning he went into his parents' bedroom, and as his mother watched, lifted the mattress, and lo and behold, there was his Bible, as had been revealed to him.
His mother was very frightened when her son told her that in a vision an angel had shown him where she had hidden his Bible. As a general rule, these good people are very superstitious and believe in all kinds of "miracles." As the son sensed his mother's surprised and frightened behavior, he said: "Mother, Monday night a pastor from America is coming to preach in our church. You must come and hear about the true religion." She accepted the invitation only because of the miraculous vision her son had had, for it convinced her that God and the truth must be in the Adventist Church.
When the campaign began last September, she came with her husband, and they never missed a lecture or a Bible class. To the joy of their son and of the angels in heaven, both were baptized on Sabbath, December 19. It is a proved fact that relating one of the miracles wrought by Christ or the apostles in every Bible study or lecture is a sure way to win the confidence of fervent and sincere Catholic friends.
One outstanding feature was the liberal way in which the church members and interested people supported the campaign financially. One sister was so thankful for the blessings she had received from the meetings, that on her birthday she brought 100,000 liras, the equivalent of S166, to help in the expense of the campaign. Another person gave 50,000 liras. A sister who was on the verge of abandoning the truth because of family difficulties, brought 25,000 liras as a thank offering for the rebirth of her faith and first love for the truth. One evening a little boy of about seven gave 600 liras (about $1.00) and said: "I want to help save people, too." His mother told me that he himself had chosen to save the money from his small daily school allowance.
The many prayers for the work in Milan and Turin were answered. The praise be only to our Lord Jesus Christ.