Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Ministry Continues in Italy After WWI

This is a continuation regarding the ministry in Italy during the early years after the war, when only a handful of pioneers were spearheading the preaching work there...
(excerpts from pgs 128-138 of the 1982 Yearbook)

(illustration of Ignazio Protti and his 2 sisters Albina and Adele, on pg 135 of the 1982 Yearbook)

The Opening of an Italian Office
The war ended, leaving a toll of death and ruin throughout the peninsula. Although the work continued to be under the direction of the Swiss branch, an office was opened in Italy after 1919. It was at Pinerolo in a house rented at 11 Via Silvio Pellico.
(In 1922 Brother Remigio Cuminetti became Italy’s representative for the Watch Tower Society)...

Help From Abroad
Shortly after 1918, Brother Marcello Martinelli, who had come to a knowledge of the truth in the United States, returned to Italy. He was a native of Valtellina, one of the beautiful valleys in the Rhaetian Alps leading down to Lake Como, and he covered this territory a number of times with the Kingdom message. In 1923 he became a “colporteur,” or full-time Kingdom preacher, and joined Brother Cuminetti in the Pinerolo area. Brother Martinelli was much loved for his goodness of heart, which, in periods of intense persecution, led him to write loving letters to the few scattered brothers. He continued in the preaching work until 1960, when he finished his earthly ministry. In the province of Sondrio, where he carried on the Lord’s work, a small group of Bible Students was formed.
In the period between 1920 and 1935, other emigrants who had accepted the truth in Belgium, France and the United States, returned to Italy. In the places where they resettled they carried on zealous preaching and found a number of hearing ears. This is how other groups of Bible Students were formed.
In 1923 the Swiss branch invited three colporteurs working in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, to move to Italy. They were Ignazio Protti and his two sisters Adele and Albina. (in the picture above) The following year Sister Emma Hotz, another colporteur, joined them.

Zealous Activity of Five Colporteurs
The activity of these zealous colporteurs is indeed worthy of mention. The three sisters worked in one territory and the brothers, Ignazio Protti and Marcello Martinelli, in another.
From 1923 to 1927 they covered various parts of Piedmont and a part of Lombardy.

Sister Adele Protti, who later married Brother Brun from Switzerland, wrote many years ago:
“In 1924, 20,000 copies of the booklet A Desirable Government were printed at Pinerolo. We had also received from Berne 100,000 copies of the tract Ecclesiastics Indicted. This tract contained the indictment read at the 1924 Columbus, Ohio, convention. It powerfully denounced the clergy. It was distributed in all the major Italian cities.”
A report in The Watch Tower of December 1, 1925, had this to say about the campaign: “Our Italian brethren distributed 100,000 copies of the ‘Indictment’; and they particularly saw to it that the pope and the other high officials of the Vatican each received a copy.”

Sister Adele Brun continued:
“Brother Cuminetti, Sister Hotz and I distributed 10,000 copies of the ‘Indictment’ at Genoa in a single day. A hundred thousand copies of the tract Testimony to the Rulers of the World were received from Switzerland, but most of them were seized by the authorities. Approximately every three months we used to go to visit our brothers at San Germano Chisone to build ourselves up spiritually at the meetings.

(this next part is awesome)...

“On one occasion, I had worked the day through in a village with very satisfactory results. My heart was full of joy as I started back home along the only possible road, which passed through a wood. As I walked along full of joyful thoughts I was suddenly aware of a young man with a bicycle walking along at my side. I was not at all alarmed and began to witness to him about the Kingdom reign of peace and justice. It took us about two hours to cover the distance back to Alessandria. Towards the end of our journey the young man said to me:

“‘Signorina, I feel I must tell you that you have prevented me from committing a terrible crime. When I caught up with you it was with the intention of causing you harm. If you had put up resistance, I might even have killed you. But when I saw your radiant face and your trustful innocent expression, I did not feel capable of abusing your confidence. Then, you started to talk to me about so many marvelous things I had never heard of before. These two hours have been enough to change my attitude toward life, and I now see what a miserable creature I was. I should like to change my way of life. Please give me anything you have to read about these things.’ I gave him all the literature I had left in my bag and he paid me for it. Then, he shook my hand and said good-bye. On that occasion, as on others, I have been protected in a truly marvelous way.”

Sister Brun remained faithful until her death in 1976, at Zurich, after 50 years of devoted service.

Her brother, Ignazio, another of the five colporteurs, wrote in 1970:
“We did not even count the hours spent in the service. We just used to work from morning to night. Often we were arrested and then released again after a short time. At Gallarate (near Varese), Brother Martinelli and I were arrested and put in prison on false charges cooked up by the clergy. We were allowed to go out into the prison yard for an hour a day, and this provided an opportunity to witness to other prisoners. Often we would be surrounded by a group of listeners, and even the guards would stop by. One day the prison governor came too. When the prisoners learned that we were to be released they embraced us and thanked us cordially. We were also very moved by this and thanked God for giving us a chance to reach these people.”

“One day,” Brother Protti continued, “as I was going from house to house, I noticed a man following me. Soon afterward, he stopped me as I was coming out of a house, saying that he was an agent of the security police. He asked to see my identity card and wanted to know what I was doing. With the idea of introducing the booklet on the same theme, I answered, ‘I am proclaiming the advent of a desirable government.’ At this the agent was almost offended and replied that there already was a desirable government—obviously referring to the Fascist regime. I explained: ‘The government you mean is only a temporary one. The one I am announcing will last forever.’ Then I pulled out my Bible and had him read Daniel 2:44 and 7:14. You should have seen how carefully he read those two verses. He gave my Bible back again and instead of arresting me as I expected, he let me go. After all these years, I still wonder if that agent remembered our conversation when the Fascist regime fell.”

Brother Protti was faithful in the Kingdom service until the end. He died at Basel in 1977 at the age of 80.

1925—The First Assembly
The work continued to expand in spite of many difficulties, and the first assembly was held at Pinerolo April 23 to 26, 1925. Since Brother A. H. Macmillan from the Society’s headquarters was making a series of visits abroad, he was able to be present. The assembly was held in a large room at the Corona Grossa hotel.

It would have been ridiculous to expect the Fascist authorities to give their permission for this assembly. So the brothers disguised the gathering as a wedding celebration. During the assembly Brother Remigio Cuminetti married Sister Albina Protti, one of the Swiss colporteurs. At that historic assembly there were 70 in attendance and 10 of these were baptized.
“Our days were full of blessings, rejoicing and happiness,” wrote Sister Brun, who was present at the assembly. She adds: “The hotel owner brought his other guests and clients into the hall saying: ‘Come and see everybody, we have the primitive church under our roof!’ . . . Everything was well organized and we usually managed to clear the floor and set the chairs out in a flash. Afterward we would put them away again and leave everything in order. We were all happy and willing to lend a hand. It was a great witness . . . Although we were very different in many ways, we managed to get on well together.”

The Work Begins To Decline
The preaching work was full of promise...Some time before then, Brother Cuminetti had inherited 10,000 lire, a tidy sum in those days. He could therefore completely devote his time to witnessing and encouraging the brothers, visiting them in their home territories.
The Watch Tower of May 1, 1925 (Italian ed.), carried an “Account of a Journey Across Italy,” made by Brothers Cuminetti and Martinelli at the end of 1924. They traveled as much as 5,000 kilometers (3,000 mi.) to visit brothers in isolated areas and interested persons in various regions from Lombardy to Sicily. The account relates that at Porto Sant’Elpidio (central Italy), documents were filed to obtain permission for the use of a hall in which to hold a talk and, “although the authorities chewed the matter over for a while, they had to give us permission in the end on account of our insistence . . .” It was unquestionably a great success.
Then, for various reasons the work slowly began to decline. Between 1926 and 1927, three of the colporteurs had to go back to Switzerland for health and other reasons. The main cause of the decline, however, was the concordat signed in 1929 between the Catholic Church and the Fascist State, conceding exceptional privileges to the Church. This marked the beginning of a sad period of religious repression.

In one of his letters Brother Cuminetti described the situation as follows:
“We should like to do much more, but we are under ever closer observation . . . they intercept everything. We received The Golden Age [now Awake!] up until March and then it stopped coming. Brooklyn informed us they had sent several parcels containing the latest books and booklets, but nothing has been received. Ever fewer copies of The Watch Tower are reaching their destination, and any of the brothers showing zeal are arrested by the enemy . . . others are threatened with exile in another part of the country and all kinds of ill-treatment.”