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Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Face of Italy

 Photo: Sister Missionaries recently called from Northern Italy.  Multilingual, they represent the changing face of Italy.
While much about Italy has remained majestically preserved for thousands of years, the population of Italy is experiencing some interesting changes.   Forty-five years ago as we walked the streets and knocked on the doors of Italy, we spoke Italian to the folks whose family history in Italy has spanned generations.   Except to the tourists and the Americans stationed at the two military bases that we supported, did we rarely speak any other language than Italian.   Beginning in the late 1970's things began to change in Italy. Today Italy has a different look as immigrants from around the world migrate at an accelerating rate seeking a better and safer life.

Photo: Multi-cultural Young Women's class in Rome
Last week three Italian sister missionaries arrived from the northern part of the country.  One is African and has been a member for only a couple of years.  She represents the growing number of Africans who discover the Gospel after immigrating to Italy.  Another is a second generation member whose family moved to Columbia years ago.  She was born in Bogata but returned to Italy when she was only 3 years old.  There are nearly as many people of Italian decent living in the South America than currently live in all of Italy.   Many of those are returning to Italy.  The other is also second generation LDS, born and raised in Italy.   Typically many of the missionaries from northern Italy are called to serve in the southern part of the country (and vice versa).   Once in awhile young Italians will be called to serve in other countries, usually English speaking.  Most of them have never been to the southern part of their country and many say it's like serving a foreign mission because of the differences in culture.

Photo:  Missionaries and their investigators from the Philippines, So. America, Africa, and Europe at our apartment.
All but about 30 of the approximately 180 missionaries serving in Italy Rome are from the USA or Canada with the majority from Utah.  The exact numbers seem to change daily... one is returning home tomorrow with a broken ankle, another just arrived from her mission in Portugal until she can fix her visa problems.  They are surprised to find after working so hard to learn Italian at the MTC how many people they meet and teach that speak other languages and come from other countries.  We stock missionary pamphlets and scriptures in 42 different languages at the mission office.   We get requests for materials in at least half of those languages on a regular basis.   Who would think that when called to Italy Rome you would teach people from all over the world.   A similar gathering of the Lord's children is happening in nearly every country in Europe, but especially in the Milano mission to the north.   Northern Italy has a higher percentage of immigrants than the south because there are more employment opportunities.

Photo: 17 year old new member Luca baptized Marco, one of his friends 
I took a few minutes last week and looked at the baptismal records for those who joined the church in our mission during the first five months of this year.  We had 85 baptisms from January to May, about 15% more than we did last year for the same period of time.   I then looked at where they were born and their ages and was surprised to discover that 17 countries were represented.  I was less surprised to see that nearly 3/4 of them were younger than 34 years old.  Here's a copy of the two charts which illustrate some of the characteristics of those who are joining the church in Italy.   I would guess after talking to other missionaries in the Milano mission that their statistics would mirror what we are experiencing.   It's an interesting phenomenon that is changing the face of Italy and other European countries, much like the millions of Mexican and Asian immigrants have changed the face and politics of America.  The gathering of Israel is happening before our eyes and it's much different than I would have thought 45 years ago.   It's a wonderful time to be serving and participating in the work of salvation.

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