I wasn’t born and raised in Utah, among Latter-day Saints, but I grew up as a Catholic, in Italy.
The influence of the Catholic Church was very strong in the environment of my childhood. I still remember a particular day, when I was 7 or 8 years old. After listening to my elementary teacher explain something about religion, I asked myself, “How can people not be Catholic? Don’t they know what terrible fate is awaiting them?”
The passing away of my father when I was about 10 years old, however, began to change my world and forced me to mature faster. I started to wonder about the real purpose of life. By the time I was 14 or 15, I felt that something was missing from my life, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
In those days we didn’t have the Internet, but I had access to many books in my home, including psychology books. One of my favorite authors was Eric Fromm, especially because of his books The Art of Loving and To Have or to Be.
I was also taking philosophy classes in high school, and I soon became very interested in some of the ideas of some of the great philosophers of the past. Consequently, I started questioning even more of the assumptions of my culture and religion.
In my home, we also had plenty of books about eastern religions and philosophies, including Yoga, Hinduism, Zen, and Buddhism. In those books, I started learning about personal spiritual progression and about having a direct experience of God.
I was also intrigued by several stories of the Bible, such as those of Moses, Joseph, or the early Apostles. However, I would often wonder why the feelings that I had while reading the New Testament were so different from those I had when participating in the religious services of my church.
I was also a member of a Catholic youth group which used to meet regularly at the local parish, where we would talk about religion and other topics relevant for people our age. While those friendships and discussions were an important aspect of my life in those days, I was sometimes frustrated by the overarching atmosphere and the ideological control exerted by the priests in charge of our group. I was sort of a dissident, not enough aligned with the official doctrine and purpose.
I didn’t like the idea of having to believe in dogmas and mysteries that cannot be comprehended, but only accepted with a blind faith or because an important person “said so.” I didn’t want to be a “dumb sheep,” but I could eventually accept to become an informed one. I didn’t want to accept passively the teachings of the Catholic Church or of any other religion. I had to know for myself what was true and what wasn’t.
While my personal search was becoming more intense during the last years of high school, I also noticed that most of my friends and adults in my life weren’t worrying too much about finding their own answers about life’s purpose. Many of them were satisfied enough with their religion, or if they weren’t, they were still going about their life without giving it too much thought. Others simply didn’t care either way.
On the other hand, I was interested in religion, but I didn’t want to be kept in darkness and delegate to a caste of priest my knowledge of God and my relationship with Him. I wanted to know by myself. Also, I did not like the idea of having to choose between a religious life and marriage, as priests need to do in the Catholic Church. I was feeling attracted to both experiences.
Though most of my friends were Catholics, one of them, Stefano, was a member of a small evangelical church. I was impressed by the fact that, in his church, there was no separate clergy, but those who were speaking or directing their church services were “normal” people who could still get married.
This was a long time before the Internet and social media, where one can quickly come in contact with many different ways of living and believing. I was still completely immersed in a pervasive Catholic culture and even a rare contact with another church, or new ideas found in a book, were giving me the inspiration and the courage to keep searching for something different, despite the strong pressure of the local traditions.
Around age 15, I had a life-changing experience that strengthened my resolve to find my own answers. I was on a trip to Rome with other Catholic youth. They came from all of Europe to gather at the Saint Peter’s Basilica to meet the Pope. During that trip, something special happened.
On the appointed day, thousands of youth were ready to meet the Pope. While waiting for him to arrive, we all sat on the floor of the St. Peter’s Basilica and they all started singing. I listened for at least an hour to those Gregorian chants, but after a while I started growing tired and uneasy. I had great expectations about that special meeting with the Pope, but after a while I began wondering: Why I am here? What am I expecting from this experience? Do I even care about meeting the Pope or am I here only because my friends came?
I struggled for a while about what to do, and then I decided to leave. I had a feeling of relief when I left that strange atmosphere in the St. Peter’s Basilica. I had an uncle living in Rome and I decided to visit him and spend some time with his family, instead of meeting the Pope.
While traveling by train back to my city in northern Italy, I had the opportunity to discuss what had happened with our guide, a very outgoing and usually friendly priest. I explained to him my feelings, my doubts, and why I had left that meeting. I also began asking him questions about some Catholic beliefs. After listening and discussing 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 ended up replying: “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 expressed honestly 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. Even that apparently open-minded priest had showed me that my different ideas and feelings didn’t fit in the Catholic Church. When confronted with hard questions, he couldn’t find anything better than suggesting I rely on blind faith or consider myself a heretic: he didn’t have the answer I needed!
Several years passed after that episode, and I continued to meet with my Catholic friends, but I became even more involved in learning about other religions and ideas.
An author that had a strong influence on me for a time, for example, was Sri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher and leader of the Indian movement for independence from British rule. In his books, he focuses on human progress and spiritual evolution, and suggests that humankind will evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations and reach a future state of “supramental” existence that will transform human beings and lead to the divinization of the material world. Those were intriguing ideas that gave me some hope and meaning for the future.
I was also fascinated by the parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism, as discussed, for example, in the book The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra.
Because of that, I even decided to study physics in college, after high school. However, after a few months, I realized that what I was searching for couldn’t be found in those classes. The physics studied in college couldn’t provide the answers I needed. I then decided to change my major to philosophy, and it was somewhat better, but still something was missing.
Looking back, I realize that all of those new ideas and experiences were progressively opening my mind. I was searching for a better knowledge of God, for spiritual growth, and for a better understanding of my life’s purpose.
All those readings and experiences were preparing me to understand the message of the Restoration. I believe that the Spirit of the Lord teaches people according to their language and understanding (see 2 Nephi 31:3 in the Book of Mormon), and guides the true seekers one step at a time, until they are ready for the fullness of the Gospel.
To have the courage to be unorthodox and challenge traditions, to think with our minds, to practice what we believe, to make sure that it works, are all necessary steps that prepare us to receive a testimony and accept the Restored Gospel.
I didn’t decide to be baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for social reasons, or out of a temporary interest, but only because I was touched by the Spirit, after learning the simple but powerful teachings of the Restored Church.
Sometimes I hear people criticize Latter-day Saints’ beliefs. Some even say that we are simple minded because of what we believe. But I have studied and to an extent tried different religions and philosophies, and very few, if any, can compare to the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ in logic and clarity. They are simple, but profound and beautiful, and we are not forced to believe in them. If we are sincere seekers of the truth, we can receive a confirmation of their truth from the Spirit of the Lord.
A great example is section 76 of Doctrine and Covenants, where the Kingdoms of Glory after this life are described in detail. If we study even the basic principles of the Gospel honestly, we cannot avoid seeing the perfection of the plan. However, if we go deeper, we come to realize that there is a lot more.
What is even more important is that we can receive a spiritual witness, even many of them, and know by personal experience what is true, so that we do not need to rely on others or on blind faith. We can develop a faith based on what we come to know to be true, and grow step by step, until this faith becomes perfect.
In my search, over time, I came to feel that the truth could be found and that I shouldn’t give up. It isn’t a hopeless pursuit, as many believe, but we cannot be afraid of searching for it in many different places, even in some that seem strange, because they are alien to our culture and experience.
We need to believe that we can reach our goals of knowledge, starting by following the spiritual principles that we already know and then adding to them the new ones that we learn during our search, often by trial and error, until we find what we are searching for. We cannot delegate to others this responsibility, and sometimes we even need to fight for it.
I can testify with all my conviction that the scripture that reads “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 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 was ready to understand. I am grateful that I was born in a time when the true Church of Jesus Christ was established on the earth once again. I can’t imagine the hardship imposed on those people who tried to find the Church when it wasn’t on the earth.
I recognize that I owe to the Catholic Church my initial understanding of many good principles, and a basic knowledge and faith in the role of Jesus Christ. That initial faith never left me, even when I was focusing on other religions. However, I owe to those other religions and philosophies a better understanding of several true principles, especially the idea of spiritual progression. Those experiences helped me to open my mind so that I was not afraid to listen and learn from the missionaries, and finally join the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Giuseppe Martinengo, a native of Vercelli, Italy, earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from UEL, Brazil, and a Master of Business Administration and a Ph.D. in Marriage, Family, and Human Development from Brigham Young University. His research focused on the work-family interface, and in a series of several papers, using Structural Equation Modeling and cross-cultural IBM data, Giuseppe has analyzed the similarities and differences among groups of IBM workers, divided by gender, life stages, and cultures. Giuseppe became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1985, when he still lived in Italy. He is married to Giovanna and they have four children. At the time of this writing he was the Vice President of Operations of the More Good Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting correct information on the Internet about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is now an Operations Manager at FamilySearch International.
Posted May 2010
Updated May 2020