Pioneers in Every Land Lecture Features Experiences of Church Pioneers in Italy

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 25 November 2015

Mauro Properzi, BYU Church history professor, gives a Pioneers in Every Land lecture on the history of the Church in his native land of Italy.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Early Mormon efforts in Italy focused on a Protestant minority known as the Waldensians.
  • About 180 Waldensians converted to Mormonism, and about a third of all converts left for Zion; the remainder were either excommunicated, returned to the Waldensian church, or are unaccounted for.
  • The Church is now recognized as a partner of the state with associated rights and privileges enjoyed by every other major religion in Italy.

“When you choose to become a Latter-day Saint in Italy and are serious about that decision, there is no way to shirk that position and responsibility: you are going to be a pioneer.” —Mauro Properzi, BYU assistant professor

As a native of Gorezia, Italy, whose parents are first-generation Church members, Mauro Properzi feels a pioneering kinship with the ancient Apostles Peter and Paul, both of whom included Rome in their ministries.

Brother Properzi, an assistant professor in the Department of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, who served a mission in his homeland, gave the latest and final lecture November 12 in the 2015 Church History Library lecture series, Pioneers in Every Land, presented in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

He gave what he identified as “a personal and ecclesiastical history” of the Church in Italy, focusing on the two stages of the Church’s presence in that land, the first in the 19th century and the second beginning in 1966, culminating with the construction of the soon-to-be completed temple in Rome.

“It would be nice if that completion would be next year, 2016, because that would happen to be the 50-year anniversary of the reopening of the Italian Mission in 1966,” he noted, adding that may or may not happen.

He said he was speaking not exclusively as a historian or BYU professor. “What I am about to tell you is the story of my family, my home country, my people. It is my story.”

His parents joined the Church at the end of 1976 and still live in Gorezia, a town of 30,000 people near the Slovenia border. LDS missionaries had come in 1975 and established a branch with a handful of members.

“My mother admits that when the missionaries first knocked on our door, she looked for an excuse to send them away,” Brother Properzi said. His father, though, had been searching for answers, as the family had just escaped a major earthquake a few months earlier and had lost their home. The father was baptized within a month, and the mother joined a couple of weeks later, initially to follow her husband but soon acquiring her own testimony of the restored gospel.

“I don’t know whether my parents realized at the time of their baptism that they would become pioneers or whether they now think of themselves as such, yet the reality is that when you choose to become a Latter-day Saint in Italy and are serious about that decision, there is no way to shirk that position and responsibility: you are going to be a pioneer,” Brother Properzi said.

“While these challenges are real, especially for youth who may feel lonely and isolated, the great news is that many who have come before us have shown the way forward.”

He said those progenitors stretch all the way back to Peter, the chief Apostle, who eventually moved to Rome, where he was martyred; and to Paul, who also was martyred at Rome, probably not many years after Peter.

“With the exception of Jesus Himself, could there be any more significant figures to have started the great Christian movement in Italy?” Brother Properzi asked.

“After the Restoration, early Mormon efforts in Italy did not focus on the large Catholic majority spread throughout the peninsula, but were instead limited to a small geographical area in Piedmont, populated by a Protestant minority that took the name of Waldensians,” he said.

Elder Lorenzo Snow, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and one of the first missionaries to Italy, said the decision had to do with his fascination with the history of the Waldensians, and he regarded them as having been the means of preserving the doctrines of the gospel in their primitive simplicity.

This first phase of the Church presence in Italy lasted only from 1850 to 1865. About 180 Waldensians converted to Mormonism, and about a third of all converts left for Zion; the remainder were either excommunicated, returned to the Waldensian church, or are unaccounted for, Brother Properzi said.

But the Church left a mark.

“Last year, a Waldensian politician whom I interviewed told me that he had always known that 19th-century Mormons had renamed ‘Mont Vandelin’ ‘Mount Brigham,’ because he had heard it as a child when he lived in the vicinity of Torre Pellice at the footsteps of that mountain,” Brother Properzi said. “This Italian senator, Lucio Malan, is an important connecting link between 21st-century Mormonism in Italy and its 19th-century brief appearance among the Waldensians.”

The senator “and other Waldensian politicians and academics, together with individuals of the Catholic persuasion, were instrumental in supporting the LDS Church’s application for intesa status by the Italian government,” he said. “This agreement, approved in 2012, recognizes the Church as a partner of the state with associated rights and privileges enjoyed by every other major religion in Italy.”

This development followed the 20th-century reestablishment of the Church presence in Italy, beginning with the reopening of the Italian Mission by Elder Ezra Taft Benson in Florence in August of 1966 and, a few months later, his rededication of the land to the preaching of the gospel, an act that transpired in the vicinity of Torre Pellice in Piedmont, where President Lorenzo Snow had first dedicated the land during his mission among the Waldensians.

Recordings of past lectures in the Pioneers in Every Land series can be viewed on history.lds.org, including this latest one, which is expected to be available in about a month.

Mauro Properzi, BYU Church history professor, gives a Pioneers in Every Land lecture on the history of the Church in his native land of Italy.