News Item: Church News Article on the Confortes
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Lives of service for Italian couple
Confortes have fond memories of many who joined the Church
May 13, 2006
By Shaun D. Stahle
Church News staff writer
Before he joined the Church, Vincenzo Conforte smoked so much that the tips of his fingers were black with nicotine. When missionaries came to his home to share the gospel he smoked to harass them, then asked obviously confrontational questions.
But through the haze of an agnostic life, he felt something and was grateful that the missionaries returned for a second visit. Instead of taking a brief rest during lunch one day, he opened the Book of Mormon and, quite by chance, read how Lehi responded to the same social and personal challenges he was facing.
Even if he was called upon to leave his home and worldly possessions, something in his heart helped him understand that ample blessings outweighed the sacrifice of joining the Church.
About the same time, Vincenzo's wife, Carolina, was battling her own doubts. She wasn't accustomed to answering problems with prayer, but on this occasion as she performed her daily chores, she felt impressed to kneel in earnest. She received a warm, peaceful assurance as she had never before felt.
Accustomed to large, cavernous cathedrals, they were taken aback when attending a meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the missionaries' apartment.
But they felt a strong spirit from the two dozen members who attended that fast and testimony meeting and committed with their three children to baptism on Christmas day 1975 — the first family to join the Church in Foggia, Italy.
A year later, he was called as branch president, a solemn challenge that proved to be a test of testimony. His faith was growing. He believed in the principles and doctrine of the Church. He knew the Spirit had witnessed the truthfulness of the gospel to his heart. Still, there were lingering doubts about Joseph Smith as a prophet.
He could not serve on such unstable ground and sought an irrefutable witness.
Kneeling in his room, he committed to the Lord, "I'm not getting up from here until you tell me if Joseph Smith was a prophet."
His feelings were intense. "I don't know how long I was on my knees," he said. "My wife tells me it may have been about five hours." When he finally stood and rubbed his knees, he had received the assuring fire-in-the-heart witness he sought.
"I changed completely," said Brother Conforte, who, with his wife, attended the recent April general conference. So stark and so stunning were the changes in personality and lifestyle that his father-in-law, who had teased Brother Conforte's new religion in a chiding, belittling sort of way, waited for Brother Conforte by his car one day to learn more about the religion that could effect such change. In short time, his in-laws joined the Church, though his parents had disowned him.
In the next months, Brother and Sister Conforte have embarked on a life of missionary service to the kingdom that has become a recurring theme in their lives. In three years, the branch grew from approximately 25 members to 70, due in part to their missionary zeal.
Most afternoons and many evenings were spent with investigators and missionaries in their home.
"I spoke with everyone about the gospel," said Brother Conforte. "It came to the point that people at work and others in the apartment complex began saying, 'Here comes the Mormon.' "
Traditions and culture were challenging obstacles to sharing the gospel, but many Italians responded when by one of their own.
In the next years, Brother Conforte served as president of two Italian missions, the Catania (1986-89) and Padova (1990-92) missions.
"Missionaries get the spirit of their calling by tracting," he said. Inviting people to learn the gospel, even when rejected, strengthens that spirit. Tracting is the price we pay to build the kingdom."
Brother Conforte told of an interview he had with one of the leading elders in the mission who was in tears, discouraged with the poor opportunities to teach the gospel.
Brother Conforte looked at his watch. "I have one hour," he said, and with that, they went tracting. "In one hour we committed 12 people to hear the lessons," he said.
Many fond memories of members gaining testimonies now flood his mind, he said. But one experience is particularly meaningful.
Years ago, Brother Conforte gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to a friend while they served in the Italian air force. The friend showed no interest, but accepted the gift and placed it on a book shelf. Ten years later, the friend's daughter found the book, pulled it from the shelves and began reading. She was soon baptized.
Brother Conforte has since served as regional representative and sealer in the Swiss temple. In February, he was released as counselor in the temple presidency and his wife as assistant matron.
"He changed my life," said Heidi Ballif, a former sister missionary in the Cantania mission. "His example and dedication and love of the Italian people inspired me to make every moment count. He showed us how to be great missionaries, which resulted in our ability to preach the gospel more convincingly."
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Carolina and Vincenzo Conforte pose near temple while visiting Salt Lake City. Since joining, they've committed their lives to service.
Photo by Cliff Montagnoli
© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company
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