I was not born and raised in Utah, among the Mormons, but I was raised a Catholic in Italy. When I was 10 years old, my father died because of lung cancer (he used to smoke) at age 47. His death changed everything in my life. I was then the only child of a widowed young mother (33 years old). In spite of all the efforts made by my mother to help me cope with the situation, very soon I realized that something had changed not only in my outward normal life, but also inside me. I wasn’t anymore like many other children who could go about being just children without many problems and especially without many questions about life or sudden sadness.
Because of the death of my father, I noticed that some people started to treat me differently and, over time, I had to face some hard questions about the purpose of our existence here on the earth. I didn’t realize how important what was happening inside me was until I was 13 or 14. However by the age of 14, I was beginning to be highly unsatisfied with the world around me and with the answers that my teachers, family, or religious ministers gave me to the important questions of life. I was beginning to realize that perhaps something was missing in the worldview and beliefs of most people around me, but I was not sure what.
It is important to stress that the presence of the Catholic Church was so strong in my environment that I can still remember a time, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, in which during a lesson at school about people with other beliefs, I asked myself: “How can people not to be Catholic? Do they know that they will all go to live forever in… (a very bad place)? Why they don’t change religion and become all Catholics?” Such was the power of tradition in my environment.
The death of my father, however, started to change my situation. The Lord sometimes works in mysterious ways to bring about His purposes. In fact, after the death of my father, my mother reduced her involvement with the Catholic Church. She was still a Catholic, but, perhaps because she didn’t find the help she was looking for in that organization to cope with her loss, she started looking elsewhere.
She started reading books about oriental religions and philosophies such as yoga, Zen, and Buddhism; in particular, she started reading about and practicing yoga. Her exploration opened up a new world to me. Suddenly, I was learning about other religions and philosophies and I was discovering that there were a lot of good things to be learned. I began to realize that perhaps the Catholic Church didn’t have the best answers to the questions of life. Moreover, and especially, I began to be familiarized with the concepts of spiritual progression and the idea of spiritual self-improvement. Not that these concepts are completely absent from the Catholic tradition, but in the daily life of a Catholic they are almost absent, since they are usually stressed only for those who abandon the “normal” life and became “full-time, forever single, priests or nuns.” My favorite Catholic “hero” was Saint Francis of Assis, but I didn’t like the idea that a religious man or woman should give up marriage to pursue a religious life at its best.
I had a dear friend, Stefano, who was a member of a small Protestant group. I had always been fascinated by the fact that this and other Protestant groups rejected the principle of celibacy in their church. When people like me are immersed in a strong Catholic culture, even these little examples or ideas can make a big difference over time and give us the courage to pursue something different in spite of the strong pressure of the tradition.
When I was 15, I had another key experience. The setting was a trip to Rome. The purpose of the trip was to take the Catholic youth from all Europe to meet with the Pope. At that time I was involved with the Catholic youth of my parish, even if I was beginning to question some of our beliefs. During that trip, something special happened.
On the specific day, thousands of youth were ready to meet the Pope in the Saint Peter’s Basilica. We had been preparing for months for this special meeting. Youth from all over Europe had traveled to get there. Obviously, the Pope was not present when we arrived and so we all sat on the floor of the church and started singing. I really didn’t sing, but I listened for at least an hour to those Gregorian lyrics but I started feeling bad. I had great expectations about that special meeting with the Pope, but after a while I began to think: “What am I doing here?”; “Why I am here after all? Just because others told me that it would be special?” I struggled for a while, but then I decided to stand up and leave. I had a feeling of relief when I left that strange atmosphere in the Saint Peter’s Basilica. I had an uncle in Rome and I decided to visit him and spend some time with his family instead than meeting the Pope: not a big deal anyway, I thought.
On the way back to my city in northern Italy, while still on the train, I had the opportunity to tell what I had done to our main guide, a very outgoing and friendly priest. I told him about my feelings, my doubts, and the fact that I had left the meeting. I began to ask questions about Catholic beliefs. After listening and discussin with me for some time he finally said: “If you believe these things, then you are not a Catholic”. That was really a strong and challenging statement, a call back to orthodoxy. I was a little perplexed, but I replied: “Then, I am probably not a Catholic!”
I suppose that the Spirit of the Lord was present that day to support me and open my mind, because I felt relieved when I said what I was really thinking, and I was not afraid of the priest’s reaction. After that episode, my search for answers was directed mainly outside the Catholic Church, since even that apparently open-minded priest had failed to help me to understand. When confronted with hard questions, he couldn’t find anything better than suggesting that I rely on blind faith or consider myself a heretic!
Several years passed after that episode and I continued to meet with my Catholic friends, but I was now always more involved in reading books about other religions. Books were my main font of information about religion. One author that really had a strong influence on me for a period, for example, was Sri Aurobindo. I can’t remember the details of what I read at that time, but Sri Aurobindo, in his books, suggests that humankind can evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations and reach a future state of “supramental” existence. This would be like an “evolutionary” step for humankind that should lead to a divine life on Earth. (This make me thing of the Millennium now, even if according the Bible this “almost divine life” will not the product of “evolution”; but at that time it was an interesting concept that gave me some hope and meaning for the future).
Based on my current knowledge and testimony of the teaching of the Mormon Church, I can’t avoid thinking that by reading his writings I was moving a step forward in the direction of understanding key Mormon concepts, some of which are not clear or even accepted by many traditional Christians. I believe that the Spirit of the Lord teaches people according to their language and understanding, and moves forward the true seekers one step at a time until they are ready for the fullness of the Gospel.
My search for the truth continued to intensify until it reached its climax when I was 19 years old. One day, I was in Torino, where I was supposed to be moving forward with my studies in physics. I had chosen to study physics not because I wanted to become a new Einstein, but because of books such as The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, books that discuss the parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism. It is probably unnecessary to say that since my interest for physics was nothing more than another step in my search for the truth, I was very disappointed with my undergraduate program at the University of Torino. Therefore, as in many other occasions, on that particular day I was not studying physics but I was reading a book about the history of Indian philosophy.
At a certain point, that day, I decided to go for a walk to relax and think about life. While I was walking downtown someone stopped me and asked me if I wanted to do a psychological test. I didn’t mention it before, but I had also been interested in psychoanalysis and psychology, and I especially liked books such as Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving or To Have or to Be? and so on Therefore, I was somewhat curious about this test.
That test was the beginning of my last step in my search for the truth. After that, I had lost my fear of disconnecting from the Catholic tradition, and I was almost incomprehensible to my family and Catholic friends. I can say now that I was ready to meet the Mormon missionaries, and especially to understand and accept their message, less than a year later, because of all those experiences.
But who was behind that psychological test? The people of Dianetics and Scientology. Their focus on personal improvement and their blending of scientific, religious, and psychological knowledge attracted me for a short period, even if I never became really involved with them, because after the initial interested, I realized that they didn’t have the answers I was looking for. However, even this relatively negative experience had at least one important positive outcome. Scientology completely severed my last psychological (and some doctrinal) connections with the Catholic Church. I freed myself even more from the weight of tradition and I grew stronger in the belief that there was something out there, in some place, in some organization, or in some book, that could help me answer my questions about the purpose of life.
It may seem of little importance to some, but to have the courage to be unorthodox, to challenge at least in our own mind the tradition is an important step before we can be ready to receive a testimony and to accept the restored gospel. This was especially true for me, since I didn’t accept to be baptized in the Mormon Church for social reasons or out of a temporary interest, but only because I was touched by the Spirit, after contemplating the simple but powerful architecture and logic of Mormon doctrine. The concept of obtaining a testimony of the truth by the Spirit of God implies that to rely on tradition to believe is not enough, even when the tradition is true.
I can testify with all my conviction that the scripture that read “seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9) is true, because the Lord guided me by the hand through many different experiences until I found what I was really looking for, the true Church of Jesus Christ once again established on the earth.
The Dark Ages of my life were dispelled when I finally met the missionaries and I can only be thankful that I was born in a time when the true Church is present in the face of the earth. I can’t imagine the hardship imposed on those people who tried to find the Church when it wasn’t on the earth.
I need to recognize that I owe to the Catholic Church my first limited understanding of and belief in Jesus Christ, belief that never left me even when I was focusing on other religions. However, I owe to these other religions and philosophies a better understanding of many true principles and a more opened mind that helped me not to be afraid when I finally found the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ in Mormonism
Meaning of Life