I come from a small village in Sicily, Italy, where the lemon trees bloom and the boundaries between the fields are marked by green rows of prickly pears bristling with thorns and bearing the sweetest of fruits.
I remember with pleasure the years I spent there preparing to become a Catholic priest. After entering seminary at age ten, I completed my high school and advanced theological studies in various cities in Sicily. I was a good student and seminarian.
The story of my conversion to the true church, now told in my old age, is one of sorrow as well as joy. After I was ordained a priest in 1950, my faith in my church started to waver. At a certain point, I thought I had lost my faith altogether. This was the first of many crises of belief to follow. However, I spoke of this to no one. I continued to carry on as before, saying mass, praying in public, and administering the sacrament.
I don’t know whether any of my colleagues or superiors, who conferred positions of trust upon me, were ever aware of my internal anguish. Among other things, I was appointed dean of the seminary and became a preacher in demand. But I was deeply unhappy, because my old faith had collapsed inside me. I requested the opportunity to pursue further theological studies at the Pontifical University in Rome, hoping to dispel my doubts. My request was granted, and I spent four years obtaining a doctorate in the department of dogmatic theology.
But instead of dispelling my doubts and strengthening my faith, the experience had the opposite effect. Thus, I returned to Sicily with more education but with less faith. I no longer viewed my situation as a passing crisis, but as a permanent reality. Intensely despondent, I envied those I viewed as uneducated believers who maintained simple faith. Not only was I enduring the internal anguish of religious doubt, but I was also facing a moral and professional quandary: How could I remain in the service of a church whose teachings I no longer believed?
When someone advised me to use caution and to prayerfully continue my studies, I returned to the university, enrolling in the department of letters and philosophy. I analyzed my questions for four more years, but my faith continued to deteriorate.
I could find no answer to my major question about the fate of the Lord’s church. As a result of my historical research, I was certain that an apostasy had occurred as early as the end of the first century after Christ. But how could I reconcile that fact with the never-changing nature of God? Surely, I reasoned, God wouldn’t have let the church he established vanish forever after lasting only one century; it must endure eternally. But what was the solution to the Apostasy? Surely there must be another Christian church that had inherited the doctrine of the true church of Christ.
After achieving yet another degree, I arrived at a crossroads. I was faced with two possibilities: continue to profess beliefs that clashed with my conscience or leave my church and my profession in order to remain consistent with my religious convictions.
I knew very well that the first option was ethically immoral, but it certainly would be the most convenient. And I knew that the second option would create enormous difficulties. Even so, on 25 September 1965, I gave my official and final adieu to my church and my profession.
As I expected, my decision created an enormous void around me; even close relatives ostracized me. Alone and without money, I left for northern Italy, where I began a new life. There, I quickly found a job as a teacher of letters in a technical institute in Bologna.
In my free time I continued my research, first embarking on a study of Protestantism that left me even more disillusioned and bitter than before. Not one church seemed to possess the qualifications I outlined for the true church of Jesus Christ. If the Book of Mormon had come into my hands at that time, or if someone had told me about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, perhaps my journey would have ended. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I went on to study other religions besides Christianity—Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—eventually neglecting my search for the true church of Jesus Christ. Instead, I became an expert in Oriental philosophy and came to believe that perhaps one religion was as good as another. As a result of my studies, for a time I fell into religious indifference.
But thanks to the grace of the Lord, I still believed in a Heavenly Father and in his divinity. And I never lost my faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I continued to search for him.
In the meantime I had married. My wife, Ines, had been reared in a Catholic home but was not a practicing church member. We decided not to instruct our two children in any religion, leaving the choice to them. But with the passing of years I had grown closer to Christ. I had started praying regularly and reading the Bible again. I was a Christian without a church, and I again engaged in the search for the true church of Jesus Christ. It was at this time, when I was past sixty years of age, that the Lord took pity on me. He began sending me premonitions in the form of dreams that my questions would soon be answered.
On a clear September morning after I had just stepped from my car, I saw two young men in the distance. They watched me as though they recognized me and were waiting for me. Strangely enough, I didn’t assume the defensive stance that I normally used to shun the annoying approaches of salesmen and missionaries. Much to my surprise, I felt drawn to them as though I, too, had been waiting for a long time to meet them. Although they were strangers, I was open and friendly to these clean, sincere young men.
They were missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This fact hit me like a thunderbolt, and I listened to them with great joy in my heart. I felt that God had finally answered my questions. I willingly accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon from them and started reading it with anticipation later that evening.
Sitting alone at my desk with that book, I felt overcome with joy and tenderness. God gave me the inner assurance that in the book I would find the truth I had been seeking for so many years. Sweet feelings flooded through me.
I felt a bond to the Book of Mormon as soon I began reading it. The Book of Mormon and the Bible both pointed me toward a single divine revelation: The Christian church, which had fallen into apostasy, had been restored! Christ had not abandoned his church after all. It was man who had been the author of the Apostasy, and now the Lord had again placed his church upon the earth. Even I, in a small way, felt that I had been restored. My long night, which had lasted for many years, was finally at an end!
Thanks to God, I was finally happy. My testimony grew every day as I continued to study the scriptures and to discuss the doctrine with the missionaries and the local branch president. A few months after meeting the missionaries, I was baptized a member of the Church. My wife added to my happiness by being baptized a few months later.
Today I rejoice that I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the true and only church of Jesus Christ, which is led by a living prophet and modern-day Apostles.