I come from a small village in Sicily, Italy, where the lemons bloom and the boundaries between the fields are marked by green rows of prickly pears bristling with thorns 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.
But my story, now told in old age, is one of sorrow as well as joy. After having spent a lifetime in anguished searching, I dedicate this brief account of my conversion to all believers of good faith, Christian or non-Christian, and especially to those who are searching for the restored Christian church.
After I was ordained a priest in 1950, my faith in the Catholic Church started to waiver. 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 don’t know whether any of my colleagues or superiors were ever aware of my internal anguish. Externally, I continued to carry on as before: I said mass, prayed in public, and administered the sacrament regularly. My superiors conferred positions of trust upon me. Among other things, I was appointed Dean of the Seminary and became a preacher much 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 my 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 another doctorate—but with a faith that was literally in pieces.
I no long viewed my situation as a passing crisis, but as a permanent reality. Deeply unhappy, I envied those uneducated believers who maintained their 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 did not believe?
When someone advised me to use caution and to prayerfully continue my studies, I enrolled in the Department of Letters and Philosophy at the state university. For four more years I analyzed my questions. But my faith only continued to deteriorate.
I could find no answers to my major problem: As a result of my historical research on my church, 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, when God established his church, he wouldn’t have let it vanish forever after lasting only one century; it must endure eternally. But where 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. Only two possibilities existed: continue on as a priest of a church 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. But at that point, I did not hesitate. 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 requirements of 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 there.
Unfortunately, that didn’t 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 all my study, I seemed to have fallen into religious indifference.
But, thanks to the grace of the Lord, I still believed in God and in his divinity. And I never completely 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.
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—but still engaged in the search for the true church of Jesus Christ.
By this time I was old, past sixty. It was at this time that the good Lord took pity on me, sending me premonitions, in the form of dreams, that my chance would soon arrive.
On a clear September morning, I had just left my car when I saw two boys at a 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 in order to shun the annoying approaches of sellers or missionaries. Much to my surprise, I felt drawn to them, as though I, too, had been waiting to meet them for a long time. Although they were strangers, I was open and friendly to these clean, sincere young men.
They were two Mormon missionaries. When I found this out, it 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 took a 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. Sweet feelings that I had never known before made me feel almost lightheaded in a semi-conscious state that lasted for perhaps an hour.
God gave me the inner assurance that I would find in that book the truth I had been seeking for so many years. The reading of the Book of Mormon bound me immediately. 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 my 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 branch president, Ezio Caramia. A few months after meeting the missionaries, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Adding to my happiness, my wife also decided to be baptized a few months later.
I later received the Aaronic Priesthood and then the Melchizedek Priesthood. And I testify today, with absolute certainty, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true and only church of Jesus Christ. I am also grateful for my testimony of a living prophet and of the modern-day Twelve Apostles.
This is my joyful testimony, molded from much suffering, which I offer humbly to all those whom it may help. The Church is eternal, as are all the works of God. It is his masterpiece.