A convention in Rome was something the brothers had ardently desired to see for many years. Even the brothers tried before the Special Tribunal had secretly wondered: “Who knows if one day we shall have an assembly in Rome and be able to meet together freely in this very city where we are now imprisoned?”
These expectations were fulfilled in December 1951 when a national convention was held on the premises of the Rome Trades Fair. Its theme, “Pure Worship,” was a significant contrast with the religion traditionally flourishing in that historic city. Since brothers from 14 other European nations were present, the convention took on an international character. The 1953 Yearbook (English ed.) published the following report:
“The Rome convention was the unforgettable event of the year. When it was announced that the president of the Society would preside at the assembly the Italian brothers determined to make great sacrifices to get there. The poverty in Italy makes it difficult for one to leave the country for an international convention. So, when Brother Knorr suggested that neighboring countries be invited to attend the Rome assembly, the response was excellent. There were about 700 or 800 delegates from England, Denmark, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and many other European countries. This made the Rome assembly an international convention that the Italian brothers will never forget. It was their first taste of the love and unity that exists among brothers who are of different nationalities and races. Now we can look forward to similarly blessed gatherings of Jehovah’s people in Italy as well as in other lands, and we know that greater efforts will be made by our brothers to attend future assemblies.”
Triumphant Kingdom Assembly
An outstanding event of the year 1955 was the Triumphant Kingdom Assembly. (shown in the photo above) Among the 4,351 in attendance at this international convention were delegates from 32 nations, and 378 were baptized. This meant that almost 10 percent of those present symbolized their dedication by water baptism, a truly remarkable figure. Five special trains arrived from Paris full of brothers, most of whom were from the United States. Their arrival caused quite a stir because it was the first time Rome had seen such a large group of American tourists arrive all at once.
It had not been easy to get the Palazzo dei Congressi for our convention. At that time it was one of the best convention halls in Europe, completely overlaid in white marble and surrounded by green parks for the use of assembly delegates. Our first application had been accepted, and everything seemed to be going well, when, 10 days before the convention was due to begin, we were told that permission to use the hall had been withdrawn. Officially we were told that it was needed for another engagement. Finally, two days before the deadline, when it seemed the convention could no longer be held in Rome, the management informed us we could hold our congress after all.
What was behind these obscure maneuvers? The answer is to be found in an article entitled “The Tower of Babel—A Crow in Campidoglio,” published by the newspaper Meridiano d’Italia of October 30, 1955, which declared:
“It seems that Mr. Cornacchiola, [his name literally means ‘little crow’] Christian Democrat City of Rome Councillor, is even more pro-Vatican than Mr. Rebecchini [then mayor of Rome], who has a position, be it only an honorary one, in Vatican City.
“In fact, Mr. Cornacchiola—yes, that is his name, Cornacchiola—questioned the Mayor of Rome to find out ‘why premises at EUR [Esposizione Universale Roma] were to be used by a Protestant sect “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” for their assembly.’ On behalf of the people of Rome, councillor Cornacchiola said he wished, ‘to protest about this and reprimand those responsible for the whole affair. Rome, as residence of the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, cannot tolerate similar gatherings that offend the residence of the Pope.’”
“Now,” the newspaper continues, “apart from the fact that the permission in question has been obtained from the Prefettura (in the person of the minister, Mr. Tambroni, an important member of Azione Cattolica [Catholic Action]), it should be kept in mind that Rome is the residence of the Head of State of the Italian Republic, while the Vicar of Christ resides in Vatican City.
“Among his other functions, President Gronchi has the task of safeguarding the Constitution of the Italian Republic, which states, in article 8, that ‘all creeds have equal right to be freely exercised and to organize themselves according to their individual statutes.’
“If Mr. Cornacchiola takes exception to the Italian Constitution he ought to begin by resigning from his position on the Rome City Council.”
“An impartial observer will be impressed by three things in particular: first, the exemplary behavior of those present, as they follow what is being said in respectful silence and with evident spiritual affinity; second, the fact that so many races can be gathered together in the name of a religion that seemingly inspires their thoughts and actions with as much serenity as moral rectitude; third, the exceptional number of children from one to thirteen years of age—black, white or yellow, but all strangely well behaved or even busy consulting verses in the Holy Bible as they follow the words of their preacher.”
New publication releases were greeted with great enthusiasm, and the news that Awake! magazine would be published in Italian beginning with the issue of August 8, 1955, was particularly thrilling. Literature released in Italian included the book “New Heavens and a New Earth” and the booklets Basis for Belief in a New World, World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom and “This Good News of the Kingdom.”
Bagpipes at the 2009 International Convention in Rome