The Story of My Conversion
I was born in Pescara, on the Adriatic coast, right in the middle of the Italian peninsula. I was a happy, normal Italian girl, an only child with loving parents. I was reared in the Catholic Church, and, in our family, traditions and good moral principles were very important. I attended a Catholic elementary school, with nuns as teachers, who tried to convince all boys to become priests and all girls to become nuns! Well, that was not my vocation, because I always wanted to get married and have children.
Every morning we had Catechism, religious education for Catholic children, where we memorized many doctrinal principles, and we were also tested on them. During those classes, some questions started to come up in my mind: Why don’t we have a prophet today? Does the Lord still love us? Why do we have to repeat memorized prayers? Why can’t we use our own words to speak to the Lord? Why can’t we participate in the Sunday Mass instead of having to listen to the same priest every week? What is Paradise like?
My teachers told me that we didn’t need a prophet any more, because we were in modern times and we had a Pope who took care of us. They said that we are not wise enough to know how to address the Lord in prayer, so we had to rely on the words that others, much wiser than we, wrote; then the Lord would understand the needs of our hearts, so we didn’t need to say anything else. And then, in church, of course, we were not educated enough to preach or to participate, while our priest had studied and was well prepared to conduct the whole meeting. Well, I was a little rebellious, I guess, and I started praying with my own words at night, before going to bed. I was not taught how to pray in my own words, or how to address my prayers, so I started like “Dear God . . .” and ended up with a “. . . good night.” It was the best I could do, but those simple prayers gave me peace and happiness.
And as for my question on Paradise… that question got me into some trouble! My teacher said that Paradise was a beautiful place where we can go if we behave well during our life on earth, that it was a place like a great theater, where we can earn a seat that we occupy eternally to contemplate God. Well, to a seven- or eight-year-old girl, the promise of sitting and contemplating eternally is not what she thinks of as eternal happiness! So I responded that I didn’t like it, and that I preferred to go somewhere else, because I wanted more, I wanted to do things with my family, I wanted to be active even after this life. As a result, my teacher condemned me to stand facing a corner for what seemed an eternity to me….
In the meanwhile, I was growing up. My life was good, my daily prayers gave me peace, and I started missing the Sunday Masses more and more until I went just a few times a year. Even though I am also thankful to my former religion for the good principles it taught me, I had new feelings, or just different ideas, and I knew that I was going to be all right, that something was going to happen to me, and that I would have more, because what I had till then was not enough. In the meantime, I was growing up.
Then, one late August day in 1974, someone rang the bell in my apartment, on the seventh floor of our building. My mother was home alone; she looked through the peephole, and saw two young men in suits, white shirts, and ties. Through the closed door she talked to them and noticed a foreign accent. They looked like good people, but, the week before, her friend had been assaulted by strangers in her home, so she didn’t trust them and told them that she was the maid of the house, not allowed to let anyone in. Next day, the missionaries came back, and the same scenario happened. No luck for them. So they crossed our address off their book and went way.
About a week later, my mother was downtown and noticed a group of people in front of a street board. She approached them and saw some missionaries. She started talking to them, saw the pictures on the board, and was about to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon when it suddenly started raining. It was a downpour, and everybody ran away to shelter. Another week went by.
Then, as it often happens in Europe and Italy, there was a strike of public transportation. The first two missionaries that came by my home were tracting in a distant part of town, and had to walk home. My house happened to be along their way. As they were walking by my building, one of the two told his companion: “Elder, I feel that we need to enter this building again!” His companion answered that they had been there several times already, and that nobody was interested in their message, but the first missionary insisted. They went into the elevator, and chose one floor, the seventh, and the door on the right. They rang the bell. Again my mother answered through the door, looked through the peephole, recognized the missionaries, and opened the door. Up to this day, many years after, tears come to my eyes to see how the Lord had prepared the way, how one missionary was inspired to knock at my door a third time, how my mother was prepared to open her home to them. And they taught her the first lesson.
That evening, when I returned home, my mother told me: “The Mormons came today, and they’ll be back tomorrow.” I had no idea of who or what they were, but I had the feeling that I had to be home for that second appointment. Maybe it was curiosity alone, maybe inspiration, but I made certain that I was there for the second lesson. And they taught us the Joseph Smith story, the story of a modern prophet of the Lord, who restored His Gospel on the earth. Finally, I had found my prophet! Everything the Elders taught us seemed to me so normal, so natural, so true. They just confirmed the beliefs that I started having as a little girl in elementary school: prophets, prayers in our own words, activity in church, a Paradise where we continue working and learning together with our eternal families. What I had desired for such a long time was true and possible. A new dimension and perspective had been added to my life.
The missionaries invited us to church for the following Sunday. We went. I felt at home, just as after a long journey: I felt that I had finally arrived at my destination. I am so thankful to those two missionaries who didn’t give up, who followed their inspiration and knocked at my door that third time, till my mother let them in. Both my mother and I joined the church. Those missionaries listened to the promptings of the Spirit and found us.
Cinzia Donatelli Noble (Dott. in Lett., Università G. d’Annunzio-Chieti e Pescara, Italy) is a teaching professor of Italian language and literature at Brigham Young University.
Posted September 2010