The Book of Mormon, the Word of God

How Rare a Possession

By Richard Tice
Assistant Editor

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the New Movie on the Book of Mormon

Richard Tice, " How Rare a Possession," Ensign, Jan. 1988, 14

For forty years, Vincenzo Di Francesca eagerly anticipated baptism in the Lord' s true church. For the first twenty years, he followed the precepts of a book he had found with the cover blank and the title page missing. Then came the day when he finally discovered in a dictionary the title of the book—the Book of Mormon—and, ultimately, the name of the Church. Two world wars, unsettled conditions in Europe, and lack of authorized priesthood holders in Italy prevented him during the next twenty years from being baptized. Now, once again, he is writing Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve, a friend he knows only through correspondence, hoping to arrange at last for the ordinance.

"I have tried to the utmost of my ability to live the laws and commandments of the kingdom of God, and my greatest desire is to receive this essential ordinance from an authorized servant of God." Vincenzo looks up from writing, thinks for a few seconds, and adjusts his glasses.

This is a brief but crucial scene in the recently released Church film How Rare a Possession—The Book of Mormon—a chance to distill in a moment years of waiting and struggle. The actual moment when Vincenzo wrote his letter has long since passed, but the moment has been recreated and preserved on film, to be seen and felt over and over again. Is it any wonder, then, that the film crew shot that scene more than ten times to get it right? Not only must viewers think that they' re seeing Vincenzo in his apartment in Sicily, but they must understand the desire behind the words he is writing.

How Rare a Possession actually recreates the stories of two people who sacrificed much to accept an ancient record of God: Parley P. Pratt, who sold his farm to search for a fuller gospel than what was then had by man, and Vincenzo Di Francesca , a Protestant minister who sacrificed his ministry and friends for the sake of a book he knew was scripture. Flashbacks to Book of Mormon events and people help us understand why Parley P. Pratt, Vincenzo Di Francesca and others like them have sacrificed so much for the book.

In the shooting of the letter-writing scene, the actor portraying Vincenzo looks up several times. A large book with leather binding, perhaps a Bible, lies on the corner of his writing table, with old copies of the Millennial Star on top. The actor tries the scene using a writing box set on the table top. To the left of the table is a translucent screen, with a light shining through from the other side. On the right stands a woman holding a cardboard reflector to make sure the lighting on the actor' s face is right. A man reads the exposure in front of the actor' s face with a light meter.

During his writing, a few people adjust Vincenzo' s hair, glasses, and hand position ever so slightly. Vincenzo also adjusts the speed of his writing to match the speed of director Russell Holt' s voice reading aloud the words of the letter. A few feet away, in front of Vincenzo' s face, is a camera and a cameraman on a large crane, with several people assisting.

The actor who plays Vincenzo, Mark Deakins, a student at Brigham Young University, has been aged through makeup for the day' s shooting. He says that the main difference between acting for film and acting for theater is technical. " In the theater, an actor can hardly see the audience. But in film, the actor is surrounded by equipment and people. Shooting out of sequence is a major difference, too, and duplicating an action over and over can make the acting stale."

When asked how he manages to portray a scene convincingly despite these problems, he answers, " I don' t have a problem shutting out the people around me. As long as I' m convinced that what I' m doing is authentic, it will work for others." Understanding the character helps, too. " It' s not too difficult to get into emotions. The film and character have made me rediscover how blessed, how lucky we are to have the Book of Mormon. We don' t have to search and search for it as Vincenzo did. The role has taught me a lot about perseverance."

The blessing of having the Book of Mormon—that is the theme the Church Curriculum Department asked Russell D. Holt, a writer and filmmaker for the department, to stress as he wrote the screenplay. "I spent weeks looking through hundreds of stories about the Book of Mormon before making my proposal," he said. " Then additional research and writing the script took another five months."

The film' s five-fold purpose, as approved by the First Presidency, is to create a deeper appreciation of the Book of Mormon; to encourage members to read, study, and apply its teachings; to strengthen testimonies of the scripture; to give members an awareness of their spiritual heritage; and to encourage nonmembers to read the book.

Peter Johnson, the producer of the movie, said during the filming, "We want to make a film that will move people so strongly that they' ll never be able to look at the Book of Mormon again without realizing the great sacrifice that' s gone into it."

The production is the largest-scale motion picture the Church has ever done. Each scene is a big production, even though it may be on the screen for only a few minutes, sometimes only a few seconds. The movie covers over 120 years of modern history and 1000 years of ancient history, so costuming and sets reflect a multitude of styles and changes. Some of the sets are quite elaborate: an entire street from 1910 New York City, the temple at Bountiful, and Nephi' s ship, for instance. Then, too, some scenes in New York, Sicily, London, and Switzerland were filmed on location.

The motion picture was a joint effort between the Church Curriculum Department and the BYU Motion Picture Studio. Peter Johnson, director of the studio, selected Russell Holt as the film' s director, giving him the opportunity to bring his screenplay to life.

Because of its scale and complexity, the motion picture required some of the best personnel in the film industry. " Our sound editor, Mike McDonough, is one of the most respected soundmen in the business," said Brother Johnson. " He was responsible for creating the entire sound effects for the Disney animated feature The Black Cauldron. Dick Jamison, as another example, is a wizard on sets—he can create anything for film. The film' s beautiful and often stunning photography has received special commendation from Church leaders. Gordon Lonsdale, who directed the photography, is a particularly gifted photographer with credits that include films made by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The list goes on—all our personnel are professionals, and they' re all dedicated to the gospel."

The film also brought together a unique cast of actors. Almost all of them are LDS, and most are professionals. Kathy Biesinger, the casting director, said that she had to hold auditions for thirty principal speaking parts and find nearly six hundred extras. For the principal characters, she looked for people who conveyed strong will and loving emotion. In one scene, for instance, Vincenzo faces an investigation into his use of the Book of Mormon during his sermons. The investigation is conducted by his pastor, a man who must do his duty but who loves Vincenzo like a son.

The Parley P. Pratt role, too, called for someone who also had the spiritual qualities of innocence and a willingness to follow God at all costs. Bruce Newbold, who has played, among other roles, a detective on Hill Street Blues, said, " It' s satisfying to know that my training has finally gone into something so pleasing and worthwhile. It' s been exciting to relive Parley Pratt' s life." The actors and the film crew often echoed Kathy Biesinger' s words: " It' s a real joy working with people who love the Lord, who love to give."

John Greenwood, a nonmember, played the role of Moroni. The part called for a short man, muscular, with a strong profile. He was selected from many applicants. Naturally curious about the character, he was astonished to learn that Moroni had affected the lives of millions of people. He immediately noticed the singular purpose and unity of the film crew and other actors, and throughout the filming, he studied the Church and attended some Church functions.

The film crew often worked long hours to prepare for scenes in order to meet deadlines. Yvonne Robertson, the wardrobe designer, explains: " We began research for costuming in the middle of March, then began making costumes in early April, using four seamstresses. More than two months later, we were still making costumes. For instance, we' ve had to prepare ancient costumes for three hundred extras—more than four hundred pieces of clothing, five hundred if you count layering.

" We had to create what would look like the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations. The people lived in hot, humid climates and knew something of weaving techniques. We looked at Guatemalan, Peruvian, and Mayan techniques, colors, and styles. Since the Nephites kept the law of Moses, we kept them fully clothed. We used long strips of cloth—draping with little sewing. The Lamanites wore skins. Our goal was to create something different yet familiar.

" We experienced little miracles. We needed lots of natural fabrics—cottons, coarse weaves, knits, and so on. One time, for example, while my scissors were being sharpened, the woman helping me mentioned that she had just brought in mill ends of natural fabrics to sell. We were able to buy very expensive fabric at 50¢ to $1 a yard. Much of it had exactly the patterns we needed."

Peter Johnson says that filmmaking is the art of illusion—what appears on the screen must look complete and authentic, though it is only the illusion of reality. In the temple at Bountiful scene, for example, the set and construction crews created an open-air marketplace and two temples. One of the temples was much smaller than the other. It was placed just behind the first temple, resting on top of a wheeled flatbed. On film, it looks like a far-off temple.

In the marketplace, baskets were supposedly filled with almonds, pinto beans, dried peas, dried apricots, lentils, pecans, yams, mangoes, crisp cracker-like bread, melons, dates, figs, grains, sugar, and salt. Actually, the baskets were filled with foam and covered with a thin layer of food.

After a set is complete, scenic artists will go through and make it look used, adding smudges, dust, and other features that make the set look lived in. " We deliberately make it look less than perfect," Dick Jamison, the art director explained.

" Look at that gate to the temple courtyard. We broke the surface of the column. The structures in ancient America were often built of stone, then covered with plaster. We thought that some in the audience would see our walls and wonder how they were made—if they were real. So we broke off part of a column to show the stone underneath. Of course, the rest of the column is styrofoam.

" Building the temple required the work of nine carpenters—it involved as much work as a full-scale home. The walls are in eight-foot sections. The foundation and stairs are wood, but the temple and courtyard walls are made from our basic building material—styrofoam. It' s naturally yellowish, so we add a base coat of paint, then spackle it. The wood came from our New York City street scene, and when we finish the temple shooting, we' ll reuse much of the marketplace for our ship scene. We' ll also need to set up a small village for Lehi' s family," said Brother Jamison while the filming was underway.

How Rare a Possession is a powerful movie about the Book of Mormon and its effect on people' s lives. Making the film was also a powerful spiritual experience for those involved. Russell Holt said, " During our research, we interviewed many who knew Vincenzo. No one could talk about him without getting a little emotional—they knew his sacrifice, what he went through to join the Church. Late one night, I walked through the empty sets of Vincenzo' s Italian home and his New York apartment. I thought, ŒVincenzo, I hope you' re pleased with the way we' re portraying your life.' I think he would be happy to know his story is going to bless so many people—and ultimately help point them toward the Savior."

Dick Jamison describes the feelings he had when the filming of the ancient temple finally started. " I knew that an actor was portraying the Savior. I knew that our temple wasn' t real. But when I saw the Savior extend his hands to the people, I had to go off and cry. I was seeing the visit—not just imagining it—for the first time, and I thought, This is how it may have been. This is how the people may have felt."/P>

After the filming of the scene, Stan Bronson, the LDS actor who portrayed the Savior, was asked to remain seated on the temple platform so he wouldn' t get his robe dirty. In a few minutes he was surrounded by children, and during the next hour he talked with nearly every child there. Stan said later, " It' s quite a privilege for me to look into the faces of the crowd and understand a little better what this means to them. In a sense, this film has given us a chance to walk a ways in His shoes."

Gospel topics: Book of Mormon, arts

[photos] Photos courtesy of Brigham Young University Media Production Department

[photos] Left: Vincenzo Di Francesca , portrayed by Mark Deakins, translates portions of the standard works into Italian. Upper right: (From left) Gordon Lonsdale, director of photography; Russell Holt, film director; Jim Sherman, assistant prop master; and Bill Shira prepare the scene in which Moroni buries the plates. Lower right: Parley P. Pratt, portrayed by Bruce Newbold, relaxes by the road to Palmyra.

[photos] Right: The Savior, portrayed by an actor, greets the Nephites and Lamanites with outstretched arms. Below: Gordon Lonsdale checks a camera shot. Seated by him on the crane is Brian Wilcox, first assistant cameraman. Standing on the temple platform, the first assistant director, Steve Thompson, directs extras into position.

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.

The Book of Mormon, the Word of God

"I Will Not Burn the Book!"

By Vincenzo Di Francesca

An Italian Protestant minister in the early 1900s gives up his ministry for a book without a name. Twenty years later, he discovers it is the Book of Mormon.

Vincenzo Di Francesca , "I Will Not Burn the Book!" Ensign, Jan. 1988, 18

The story that follows is Brother Di Francesca's account of his remarkable conversion. It is taken from an article in the May 1968 Improvement Era, pages 4-7; from the Deseret News, Church Section, 28 February 1951, pages 12-13; and from a letter that Brother Di Francesca wrote to Avard Fairbanks. The letter, currently in the Church archives, is the only known account by the author in English of his forty-year struggle to join the Church.

As I think back to the events in my life leading to a cold morning in New York City in February 1910, I cannot escape the feeling that God had been mindful of my existence. That morning the caretaker of the Italian chapel delivered a note to me from the pastor. He was ill in bed and wished me to come to his house, as he had important matters to discuss regarding the affairs of the parish.

As I walked down Broadway, the strong wind from the open sea moved the pages of a book lying on a barrel full of ashes. The form of the pages and the binding gave me the idea that it was a religious book. Curiosity pushed me to approach it. I picked it up and beat it against the barrel to knock off the ashes. It was printed in the English idiom, but when I looked to the frontispiece, I found it was torn away.

The fury of the wind turned the pages, and I hastily read Alma, Mosiah, Mormon, Moroni, Isaiah, Lamanites—except for Isaiah, all were names I had never before heard. I wrapped the book in a newspaper I had bought nearby and continued my walk toward the pastor's house.

After a few words of comfort there, I took accord of what I should do for him. On the way home, I wondered who the people with the strange names might be. And who was this Isaiah? Was he the one in the Bible or some other Isaiah?

At home, I seated myself before the window, anxious to know what was printed in the book. As I turned the torn pages and read the words of Isaiah, I was convinced that it was a religious book that talked of things to come. But unknown was the name of the church that taught such doctrine, because the cover and frontispiece had been stripped off. The declaration of the witnesses gave me confidence that it was a true book.

I then bought twenty cents' worth of denatured alcohol and some cotton at the neighborhood drugstore and began cleaning the pages. For several hours I read the remainder of the pages, which gave me light and knowledge and left me charmed to think of the source from which this fresh revelation had come. I read and reread, twice and twice again, and I found it fit to say that the book was a fifth gospel of the Redeemer.

At the end of the day, I locked the door of my room, knelt with the book in my hands, and read chapter ten of the book of Moroni. I prayed to God, the Eternal Father, in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, to tell me if the book were of God, if it were good and true, and if I should mix its words with the words of the four gospels in my preaching.

I felt my body become cold as the wind from the sea. Then my heart began to palpitate, and a feeling of gladness, as of finding something precious and extraordinary, bore consolation to my soul and left me with a joy that human language cannot find words to describe. I had received the assurance that God had answered my prayer and that the book was of greatest benefit to me and to all who would listen to its words.

I continued my services in the parish, but my preaching was tinged with the new words of the book. The members of my congregation were so interested that they became dissatisfied with my colleagues' sermons. When members began leaving the chapel during their sermons and remained when I occupied the pulpit, my colleagues became angry with me.

The beginning of real discord began Christmas Eve, 1910. In my sermon that evening, I told the story of the birth and mission of Jesus Christ as given in my new book. When I had finished, some of my colleagues publicly contradicted all I had said. They denounced me and turned me over to the Committee of Censure for disciplinary action.

When I appeared before this committee, the members gave what they supposed to be fatherly advice. They counseled me to burn the book, which they said was of the devil, since it had caused so much trouble and had destroyed the harmony of the pastoral brothers. I replied, "I will not burn the book because of the fear of God. I have asked him if it were true, and my prayer was answered affirmatively and absolutely, which I feel again in my soul as I defend his cause now." I felt then that the day would come when the book would be no more unknown to me and I would be able to enjoy the effects of the faith that led me to solemnly resist the Committee of Censure.

Not until 1914 was I once again brought before the council. The vice venerable spoke in a friendly tone, suggesting that the sharp words at the previous hearing may have provoked me, which was regrettable, since they all loved me. However, he said, I must remember that obedience is the rule and that I must burn the book.

I could not deny the words of the book nor burn it, since in so doing I would offend God. I said that I looked forward with joy to the time when the church to which the book belonged would be made known to me and I could become part of it. "Enough! Enough!" the vice venerable cried. He then read the decision, which was backed by the supreme synod three weeks later: I was to be stripped of my position as a pastor of the church and of every right and privilege I had previously enjoyed.

In November 1914, I was called into the Italian army and saw action in France. Once I related to some men in my company the story of the people of Ammon—how they had refused to shed the blood of their brothers and had buried their arms rather than be guilty of such great crimes. The chaplain reported me to the colonel, and the next day I was escorted to the colonel's office. He asked me to tell him the story I had related. Then he asked how I had come into possession of the book. I received as punishment a ten-day sentence of bread and water, with the order that I was to speak no more of the book.

After the end of the war, I returned to New York, where I met an old friend, a pastor of my former church. He interceded for me with the synod, and I was finally admitted to the congregation as a lay member. As an experiment, it was agreed that I should accompany one of the pastors on a mission to New Zealand and Australia.

In Australia, we met some Italian immigrants who asked questions about the errors in some Bible translations. They were not satisfied with my companion's answers. When they asked me about it, I once again told the story of Christ's appearance to the people of America. When they asked me where I had learned such teachings, I told them of the book I had found. The story was sweet to them but bitter for my colleague. He reported me to the synod, and once again they cut me off from the church.

I returned to Italy shortly after. Then, in May 1930, while seeking in a French dictionary for some information, I suddenly saw the entry "Mormon." I read the words carefully and found that a Mormon Church had been established in 1830 and that this church operated a university at Provo. I wrote to the university president, asking for information about the book and its missing pages. I received an answer two weeks later telling me that my letter had been passed on to the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On June 16, 1930, President Heber J. Grant answered my letter and sent a copy of the Book of Mormon in Italian. He informed me that he would also give my request to Elder John A. Widtsoe, president of the European Mission, with headquarters in Liverpool. A few days later, Elder Widtsoe wrote to me, sending me a pamphlet that contained the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the gold plates, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. At long last, I had learned the rest of the story of the torn book I had found on top of a barrel of ashes.

On June 5, 1932, Elder Widtsoe came to Naples to baptize me, but a revolution between the Fascists and anti-Fascists had broken out in Sicily, and the police at Palermo refused to let me leave the island. The following year, Elder Widtsoe asked me to translate the Joseph Smith pamphlet into Italian and to have 1,000 copies published. I took my translation to a printer, Joseph Gussio, who took the material to a Catholic bishop. The bishop ordered the printer to destroy the material. I brought suit against the printer, but all I received from the court was an order to him to return the original booklet.

When Elder Widtsoe was released as president of the mission in 1934, I started correspondence with Elder Joseph F. Merrill, who succeeded him. He arranged to send me the Millennial Star, which I received until 1940 when World War II interrupted the subscription.

In January 1937, Elder Richard R. Lyman, successor to President Merrill, wrote that he and Elder Hugh B. Brown would be in Rome on a certain day. I could meet them there and be baptized. However, the letter was delayed because of war conditions, and I did not receive it in time.

From 1940 until 1949, I was cut off from all news of the Church, but I remained a faithful follower and preached the gospel of the dispensation of the fulness of times. I had copies of the standard works, and I translated chapters into Italian and sent them to acquaintances with the greeting, "Good day. The morning breaks—Jehovah speaks!"

On February 13, 1949, I sent a letter to Elder Widtsoe at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Elder Widtsoe answered my letter October 3, 1950, explaining that he had been in Norway. I sent him a long letter in reply in which I asked him to help me to be quickly baptized, because I felt that I had proven myself to be a faithful son and servant of God, observing the laws and commandments of his kingdom. Elder Widtsoe asked President Samuel E. Bringhurst of the Swiss-Austrian Mission to go to Sicily to baptize me.

On January 18, 1951, President Bringhurst arrived on the island and baptized me at Imerese. Apparently, this was the first baptism performed in Sicily.

When I came up out of the water, I said, "I have prayed daily for many years for this moment." As President Bringhurst and his wife left, I shook their hands tenderly and told them, "My dear Brother and Sister Bringhurst—you can hardly imagine how sweet those words brother and sister are to me. I say them with a feeling of affection and appreciation that I have never before experienced, for I know that you have led me through the door that will eventually bring me back to my Heavenly Father, if I am faithful."

On April 28, 1956, I entered the temple at Bern and received my endowment. At last, to be in the presence of my Heavenly Father! I felt that God's promise had been fully fulfilled—the day had come indeed when the book would be no more unknown to me and I would be able to enjoy the effects of my faith.

Brother Di Francesca died 18 November 1966 at Gesta Gratten (Palermo), Italy. Before his death, he was able to do the temple work for many of his ancestors.

Gospel topics: Book of Mormon, conversion, faith.

[photos] Top: The actual copy of the Book of Mormon, without title page, that Vincenzo found on top of a heap of ashes in a barrel. Bottom left: Vincenzo Di Francesca as a Protestant minister, about age twenty-six. Bottom right: Brother Di Francesca about age sixty-five.

[photos] Above: This letter from Brother Di Francesca discusses Italian and English translations of the Book of Mormon. Right: When Vincenzo first stumbled across the entry Mormon in a French dictionary, he apparently wrote the information on the back of this envelope. Below: This scene from the motion picture How Rare a Possession depicts the moment when Vincenzo first found the Book of Mormon. The title on the spine of the book was illegible and the title page was torn out. (Photo courtesy of Brigham Young University Media Production Department.)

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Viva Vicenza

By Beth Dayley

In this town in northern Italy, the youth know diversity brings zest to life.

Beth Dayley, "Viva Vicenza," New Era, July 1988, 49

The hot Venetian sun fills the upstairs room where the teenagers are discussing their upcoming activities. They're using hesitant, mispronounced Italian, broken English, and some French, so the communication can't help but break down.

Finally, one of the American boys turns to an Italian boy and translates into German. "Capito!" (understood), the boy replies, and the Young Men/Young Women group continues its discussion.

In September 1985 the Venice Italy Stake was created and the Vicenza Italian Branch and American Serviceman's Branch were united to become the Vicenza Ward. Together, the youth of the ward are striving to strengthen their testimonies, grow in the gospel, and become united while overcoming language, cultural, and national barriers that in many parts of the world could seem insurmountable.

Vicenza is in northern Italy, where cultures have been blending and languages have been mixing, not for centuries but for millennia. In the shadow of the Alps, on the site of an ancient Roman camp not far from the Brenner Pass into northern Europe, Vicenza has been a trading area and cultural melting pot since the third century B.C.

Vicenza was first conquered by Romans, then by barbarians sweeping out of northern Europe to topple the Roman Empire, then by several medieval city-states, and then absorbed by the Venetian Republic in the 14th century. In the 1800s, it was conquered by Napoleon, then controlled by Austria until it became part of the new Italian nation in 1848.

The young men and women of the new Vicenza Ward are like the city itself, a montage of backgrounds, personalities, and nationalities. There are Americans whose fathers are stationed at a nearby military base, Italians from several areas of the country, and a German-American family. The youth are enthusiastic and bi- or tri-lingual, and strive to bridge the communication gap that separates them as much as the cultural differences.

With such diverse backgrounds and languages, Church lessons are different and more condensed than they are in a typical ward. When a missionary is not available to translate a lesson, one of the youth may try to help. But since the young people are more familiar with colloquial terms or schoolbook Italian or English, translating gospel concepts can be quite a challenge.

Some of the newer and younger youth find it difficult as well as distracting to wait for the translation, and they lose their train of thought. The older students, however, most of whom are studying languages, find this a challenge and a benefit.

"I really like how it helps me learn English better," says Denis Evolani, a 15-year-old who is fluent in German and French and is currently studying English.

Most of the Americans are studying Italian, but many of them are new to Italy and don't understand much. "I wonder sometimes why I can't stay where I want to be, where I can understand the language," says Donna Kennedy, whose family recently arrived in Italy. "But though it's difficult now, I know that when I leave I'll wish I didn't have to."

Athena Dayley, a senior at the American High School, is often the translator for the Young Women. She finds it challenging but fun. "It is so neat to be able to talk to someone in another language," Athena says, "but translating at church is really hard, and I get flustered at times and can't remember what is being said or comprehend the meaning of what I'm translating. All I'm doing is parroting words."

But the youth have discovered that sometimes spiritual moments transcend the language barrier.

"I seldom cry at movies," Athena says, "but at girls' camp the Spirit was so strong that even if I couldn't understand the words, I couldn't help but have tears in my eyes."

American Marc Dayley, 15, who attended the Young Men camp in the Alps, agrees. "You can feel the Spirit so strongly when someone is speaking about the Church, even if you can't understand the words," Marc explained. "Listening to other testimonies at camp really strengthened my own."

The youth activities are very difficult to plan because school schedules for the Italian and American nationalities are very different. The Italian youth go to school six days a week, from 8:30 to 12:30, while the Americans attend school on post five days a week, 8:30-3:30, with many extracurricular activities and sports lasting until 6:30.

The Italians observe "riposo," when shops and businesses close from 12:30 to 4:00, then reopen until 7:30, and the people often enjoy activities from 8:00 to 11:00 P.M., when most Americans are studying. Stake youth activities are often scheduled on Italian holidays, when American students must go to school. The large boundaries of the stake force many youth to commute an hour by train, so it is very difficult to schedule seminary or activities during the week.

"There are not as many youth activities here as in the States," says Marc. "But I like the ward dances we have had where we've invited other youth from the stake, even if it's more challenging to flirt with girls in a foreign language."

Some activities, like volleyball, soccer, dancing, and camping, are universal, and can be enjoyed equally by all; while others, like scripture chases, Church knowledge games, and drama, are far more difficult because of the language problems. Food is another thing. Some youth are hesitant to try pumpkin pie, hot dogs, pizza romano (with anchovies), and other foods that may look or taste different. Yet they usually try some of everything and generally admit they like it "a little."

These youth enjoy an opportunity to live in Europe and to gain an appreciation of another culture, whether it is the Americans viewing priceless Renaissance art or the Italians learning to play football. But they admit that it's hard at times to be a member of the Church in Italy.

"In the States, most people know what the standards of the Church are, so it's easier there," Donna explains. "Here there are more temptations because they don't know automatically what you stand for or what to expect from you."

"It's hard here," Athena adds. "School activities are set up on Sunday and everyone plays soccer and goes to the movies. Here you've got to set your own standards for yourself and stand by them. It has strengthened my testimony."

But despite the challenges, the youth are growing in unity, not just as a ward youth group but as citizens of the world. This was brought home forcibly to the young women when they participated in an activity that was conducted worldwide. They tied their written testimonies to balloons and released them into the Italian skies.

"I thought of all my friends in Arizona," Donna said, "and I felt close to them, even though we are far away."

Living in the mission field, or anywhere in the world as a Mormon youth, is not always easy, nor is gaining a testimony and understanding other cultures and people. But in the Vicenza Ward, the youth are learning to help each other by appreciating each other's differences and reveling in their similarities.

Gospel topics: brotherhood, Church growth

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.