Here's a bit of ancient history from Lorenzo Snow's "The Italian Mission," published in London in 1851. Although he himself did not preach within the current boundaries of the Catania Mission, the Apostle's impressions of the land should fascinate anyone who has served in Italy.
His account opens by describing his departure from family and friends -- a bit like "Called to Serve," except that he was also leaving behind a wife and small children. After miraculously surviving an attack by an Indian war party of 200 braves, Elder Snow and his traveling companions crossed the rest of the continent and sailed for England. He arrived in Italy in the summer of 1850.
I have added my own headings to the selected passages below, and I have cut and pasted various sections without adding formal editorial notations, Reader's Digest style. The entire 28-page booklet is probably available at the BYU library. Finally, while some of Elder Snow's descriptions of Italy appear rather dismal and dark, we who have been there more recently met many people who loved us and embraced us and made us welcome in their homes and in their land. Perhaps the most important point to extract from Elder Snow's message is that his prayers on behalf of the Italian people are being fulfilled.
To cross a vast continent, and a vaster ocean, demands a motive of considerable force. When such a journey leads one directly away from his cherished home--from the wife of his youth, and the children who cluster round to lisp a father's name--then serious affairs surely should be sounding an imperative call in the ear of the traveller.
I have performed such a journey, and under such circumstances.
As a servant of Jesus Christ, I was going to oppose "one who exalteth himself against all that is called God," and held an usurped authority over many nations.
Italy appeared a death-wrapt land, where the errors of ages were ready to combat my attempt with gigantic powers. I have now been to that country, and publish these letters to my familiar friends, as a brief record of my mission.
Many of the customs, laws, and institutions are very singular.
The other day, as I was returning from a walk, I fell into the following reflections: I am alone and a stranger in this vast city [Genoa], eight thousand miles from my beloved family, surrounded by a people whose manners and peculiarities I am unacquainted. I am come to enlighten their minds, and instruct them in principles of righteousness; but I see no possible means of accomplishing this object.
I ask my Heavenly Father to look upon this people in mercy. O Lord, let them become the objects of they compassion, that they may not all perish. Thou knowest that I have bidden a heart-rending farewell to the loved and tried partner of my bosom to obey Thy call, and hast thou not some chosen ones among this people to whom I have been sent. Lead me unto such, and thy name shall have the glory through Jesus Thy Son.
BRT Among the Piedmont Waldens
The country in which I now found myself bears a striking resemblance to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Piedmont is situated at the foot of the Alps, the highest mountains in Europe. The Protestant inhabitants are called "Valdois," or Waldenses. They number about 21,000; there are also about 5,000 Catholics. The French language is generally understood, but in many parts it is spoken very imperfectly, and with an admixture of provincialism and Italian.
We endeavored to lay a foundation for future usefulness, in silently preparing the minds of the people for the reception of the Gospel, by cultivating friendly feelings in the bosoms of those by whom we were surrounded. Yet I felt it rather singular, and no small tax upon patience, to be weeks, and months, in the midst of an interesting people, without being actively and publicly engaged in communicating the great principles which I had come to promulgate. But, as I felt it was the mind of the Spirit that we should proceed at first, by slow and cautious steps, I submitted to the will of heaven.
Dedication of Italy
It was well-known that we had come to establish a church. This was looked upon by many as an impossibility. But, we now found that we had the materials marvellously assembled from four different nations, viz., England, Scotland, Italy, and America. With one member from each of these countries we proceeded to organize the church. We ascended a very high mountain a little distance from La Tour, and having taken our position on a bold projecting rock, we sung praises to the God of heaven, and offered up the following prayer:
"We, thy servants, Holy Father, come before thee upon these mountains, and ask thee to look upon us in an especial manner, and regard our petitions as one friend regards the peculiar requests of another. Forgive all our sins and transgressions, let them no more be remembered. Look, O Lord, upon our many sacrifices in leaving our wives, our children, and country, to obey thy voice in offering salvation to this people. Receive our gratitude in having preserved us from destruction amid the cold wintry blasts, and from the hostile savages of the deserts of America--in having led us by the Holy Ghost to these valleys of Piedmont. Thou has shown us that here thou hast hid up a portion of the House of Israel. In thy name, we this day lift into view before this people, and this nation, the Ensign of thy Martyred Prophet and Patriarch, Joseph and Hyrum Smith--the Ensign of the fulness of the Gospel--the Ensign of thy Kindom once more established among men.
O, Lord God of our Fathers, protect thou this banner. Lend us of thine Almighty aid in maintaining it before the view of these dark and benighted nations. May it wave triumphantly from this time forth, till all Israel shall have heard, and received the fulness of the Gospel, and have been delivered from their bondage. May their bands now be broken, and the scales of darkness fall from their eyes. From the lifting up of this Ensign, may a voice go forth among the people of these mountains and valleys, and throughout the length and breadth of this land; and may it go forth, and be unto thine elect as the Voice of the Lord, that the Holy Spirit may fall upon them, imparting knowledge in dreams and visions concerning this hour of their redemption. As the report of us, thy servants, shall spread abroad, may it awaken feelings of anxiety with the honest, to learn of thy doings, and to seek speedily the path of knowledge.
Whosoever among this people shall employ his influence, riches, or learning to promote the establishment of Thy Gospel in these nations, may he be crowned with honours in this world, and, in the world to come, crowned with eternal life. Whosoever shall use his influence or power to hinder the establishment of Thy Gospel in these nations, may he become, in a surprising manner before the eyes of all these nations, a monument of weakness, folly, shame, and disgrace. Suffer us not to be overcome by our enemies in the accomplishment of this business upon which we have been sent. Let messengers be prepared and sent forth from Heaven to help us in our weakness and feebleness, and to take the oversight of this work, and lead us to a glorious consummation.
Remember our families: preserve our lives and our hearts from all evil, that, when we shall have finished our missions, we may return safely to the bosom of our families. Bless Elder Toronto in Sicily, and give him influence and power to lead to salvation many of his father's house and kindred. Bless President Young and his Council, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Thy Saints universally: and to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost shall be the praise, honour, and glory, now and forever. Amen."
Prophecies of Success
The work here is slow and tedious. Nevertheless, the Church has been established. The tree has been planted and is spreading its roots. The leaven has begun its process. Many good things have been spoken concerning Israel. Many prophecies of great importance have been given in connection with this mission, and recalling them to mind seems like the dawning of day upon the benighted. We especially remember the one you [President Franklin D. Richards] uttered at the meeting in London. You have not forgotten prophesying that thousands would, ere long, embrace the gospel in Italy.
Hope for Italy
O Italy! Hath an eternal winter followed the summer of thy fame, and frosted the flowers of thy genius, and clouded the sunbeams of thy glory? No! The future of thy story shall outshine the past, and thy children shall yet be more renowned than in the ages of old. I see around me many an eye which will, one day, glisten with delight at the tidings of Eternal Truth -- many a countenance which will adorn the assemblies of the Living God. There is yet the blood of heaven's nobility within the hearts of many amid thy sons and daughters.