I was not born and raised in Utah, among Mormons, but I was raised a Catholic, in Italy. When I was 10 years old, my father died and I had to mature faster than most boys. By age 15, questions about the purpose of life, and where we come from or where we will go after this life, were very frequent. I would read many books, trying to find answers to my questions, and I had long philosophical discussions with my friends. Many of them were Catholics, and we used to meet together at the local parish, run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, and discuss religion and current events.
I always had a inquisitive mind, and I was willing to learn from books, but I was also looking for something to be experienced. I never liked “dogmas” and “mysteries” that cannot be comprehended, but only accepted with a “blind faith” or because an important person “said so”. In short, I did not like to be a “dumb sheep” but I could eventually accept to become an informed one. Therefore, I embarked in a voyage to discover by myself what was true and what was not.
While growing up, I noticed that many friends and adults would simply accepts dogmas and mysteries without discussion, or they would rebel against them and abandon religion altogether. On the other hand, I was always attracted by religion, but I could not accept to be kept in darkness, and delegate to a caste of priest my knowledge of God or my salvation. I wanted to know by myself. Moreover, I did not like the idea of having to separate a religious life from marriage as is typical in the Catholic Church. I was attracted by both and I did not want to choose between them.
I had a dear friend, Stefano, who was a member of a small Protestant church, and I was fascinated by the fact that, in his church, people could follow a religious life and still get married. 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 the courage to keep searching for something different, in spite of the strong pressure of the tradition.
In my search for answers I was attracted by many authors and books. I had to study philosophy for three years in high school, but soon it became a passion and not just a subject of study. Some of my favorites were the books of Plato, Nietzsche (e.g. Thus Spoke Zarathustra), and Kierkegaard. I had also access to many books of Psychology, and some of my favorites were Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving and To Have or to Be.
After the death of my father, my mother started reading about and practicing Yoga. I then became acquainted with many books about eastern religions and philosophies, including Hinduism, Zen and Buddhism. I even practiced and studied Yoga for a while, but I did it as a way of getting closer to God, trying to have a direct experience of Him, and not simply as a way of reaping physical benefits.
All of these ideas and experiences were opening my mind. I was looking for the Absolute, for God, for spiritual progression and illumination. I was also intrigued by several stories in the Bible, such as that of Moses, or Joseph, or the Apostles. However, I would often wonder why the spirit and feelings that I had while reading the New Testament were so different from those I had when going to my church or listening to a priest speak.
Later, I became interested in physics, but mostly because of books such as The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, a book that discusses the parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism.
It is needless to say that the presence of the Catholic Church was very strong in my environment. I can still remember a time, when I was about 10 years old, when, while listening to my elementary teacher, I asked myself: “How can people not be Catholic? Do they not know what a terrible fate is waiting for them?”
When I was 15, however, I had a life changing experience. I went on a trip to Rome with other catholic youth. They were coming from all of Europe to gather at the Saint Peter’s Basilica and meet the Pope. During that trip, something special happened.
On the appointed day, thousands of youth were ready to meet the Pope. The Pope was not there when we arrived. 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. 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 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.
On the way back to my city in northern Italy, while traveling by train, I had the opportunity to tell what I had done to our guide, a very outgoing and friendly priest. I explained to him my feelings, my doubts, and I told him why I had left the meeting. I began to ask questions about 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 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 give me the answers I was looking for. When confronted with hard questions, he couldn’t find anything better than suggesting me to rely on blind faith or consider myself a heretic! I could not accept those solutions.
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.
One author that really had a strong influence on me for a period, for example, was Sri Aurobindo. In his books, he suggested that humankind could evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations and reach a future state of “supramental” existence. It was an interesting concept for me at that time that gave me some hope and meaning for the future (we could compare it to the hope for a Millennium).
All the readings I did during those important years 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, and guide 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 it works, are all necessary steps that prepare us to receive a testimony and 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.
I heard people criticize what Mormons believe and even say that we are simple minded because of what we believe, but I have studied many different religions and philosophies and very few, if any, can compare to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in logic and clarity. A simple example is section 76, where the Kingdoms of Glory are described. Even if we simply study the basic principles of the Gospel, we cannot avoid seeing the perfection of the plan. However, if we go deeper, we come to realize that there is a lot more than what can be understood initially.
Moreover, in spite of the logical beauty of the Restored Gospel, what is most important is that we can receive a testimony, actually many of them, and know by personal experience that it is true, so that we do not need to rely on others or on a “blind faith”, but we can have a faith based on what we know to be true, and this faith and knowledge can grow until they become perfect.
I always believed that the truth can be found. It is not a hopeless pursuit. But we cannot be afraid of looking for it in many different places, and some of them may be strange, aliens to our culture and experience. We need to believe that we can reach our goals of knowledge by following spiritual rules, sometimes by trials and errors, until we find what we are looking for. We cannot delegate to others this responsibility and we need to fight for it, at times.
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 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 was ready to understand. I can only be thankful that I was born in a time when the true Church was present on 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 the building of an opened mind that helped me not to be afraid when I finally found 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 focuses 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. He is currently 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.
Posted May 2010