Saturday, November 28, 2009

Post-War Assemblies & Circuit Work In Italy

(The following info is on pgs 179-190 of the 1982 Yearbook...We've really come a long way, from such small beginnings!)

(First circuit assembly in Italy, held in 1947 at Roseto degli Abruzzi; brothers met under a fig tree and a canopy of vines along a private road...illustration on pg 193)
Work Reorganized And Branch Office Opened
Toward the end of 1945, Brother N. H. Knorr, then the president of the Watch Tower Society, and his secretary M. G. Henschel made a visit to Europe. The Swiss branch invited Sister Pizzato to go to Berne to give Brother Knorr a report on the activity in Italy. With regard to that meeting Sister Pizzato writes:
"Brother Knorr realized the immediate necessity of having booklets printed in Italian so that the preaching work could be started up again..." Brother Umberto Vannozzi, a young man residing in Switzerland but with Italian nationality also, was present at that meeting. He was assigned for a time to visit small groups of brothers to strengthen and instruct them in Jehovah’s way.

At that time Cernobbio was a small town of about 3,000 inhabitants and hardly suitable as a center of operations in view of the hoped-for expansion. For this reason, in the spring of 1946 Brother Knorr instructed the brothers to find a place suitable to house a small Bethel family of six or seven persons. With the help of a brother from the Berne office, a six-room house was bought at 20 Via Vegezio in Milan, and we transferred the center of our newly established activity there. This took place in July 1946. That year saw an average of 95 Kingdom publishers, with a peak of 120 from 35 small congregations. This was the basis for our future expansion.

In October 1946, Brother George Fredianelli arrived from the United States. In 1943 he had graduated in the first class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and had since served as a circuit overseer. He was now assigned to visit the brothers in our only existing circuit, which went from the Alps down to the island of Sicily.

In January 1947, two other missionaries, Joseph Romano and his wife Angela, arrived. Since Brother Romano had been appointed to be branch overseer, he immediately set to work in the new Bethel at Milan. A few months later, yet another couple of Gilead graduates were sent over. They were Carmelo and Constance Benanti. Then, on March 14, 1949, it was a bonanza when another 28 missionaries arrived in the country! They really were one of Jehovah’s provisions to start things rolling with a view to expansion. At first they were assigned to groups working in five cities: Milan, Genoa, Rome, Naples and Palermo.

In 1946, when things got off to a new start after the war, there were little more than 100 publishers scattered here and there throughout the country. They were out of contact with one another and the organization. No regular meetings were being held, although the publishers did their best to meet together anywhere they could, in private homes and even in cow stalls. They would read one publication or another, looking up the scriptures and commenting on them as well as they could. For the most part, the preaching work consisted of speaking to friends or relatives, and the theocratic structure of the Christian congregation was almost unknown.

First Postwar Assembly
After the opening of the branch office at Milan, Brother Knorr decided to pay us a visit to give added impetus to the newly organized activity. In connection with his visit, a one-day assembly was arranged. It was to be the first assembly of the postwar period. All the brothers and interested persons were looking forward to it and the meeting with Brothers Knorr and Henschel.
On May 16, 1947, they all arrived at Cinema Zara, where the assembly was to be held. At the morning and afternoon sessions 239 persons were present from various parts of Italy, even far-off Sicily, and the number of those then baptized was 31...It is surprising to note that this latter group included some of those sentenced by the Fascist Tribunal and who, because of their limited knowledge of Christian requirements, had yet to be baptized. (isn't that amazing? their faith was so firm that they were willing to endure prison sentences before they had even been baptized yet!) The public talk, held at 8:30 in the evening on the theme “The Joy of all the People,” climaxed the proceedings. Seven hundred were present.
The brothers had to make great sacrifices to go to that assembly, not only because they were so poor that traveling and overnight expenses seemed very high, but also because the railways were still disrupted by the aftermath of the war. Teresa Russo, an elderly sister from Cerignola, narrates: “We were so poor at that time we did not have the money to go to the assembly. Where were we to get it? I remember, as though it were yesterday, how we began to put our sugar aside instead of using it. Then, we would find a way of selling this reserve to pay for our train tickets and overnight expenses. We filled our cases with sugar and hung sacks of it around our waists, rather like hunters who carry their food in this way. We all looked very fat. Nevertheless, this is how seven of us were able to go to Milan and have the joyful experience of seeing so many brothers there.”
Some of those present still remember their feelings when they found themselves freely assembling with brothers they had previously met in prison or in exile. Aldo Fornerone, who was present at that assembly, says: "I shall never forget how moved I was to meet and embrace those dear brothers from central and southern Italy who had been in prison or in exile with me. Only Jehovah knows how grateful we were to be able to meet together in a country where freedom of worship had been reestablished..."
During the assembly Brother Knorr outlined a program for theocratic expansion in the country. From the month of June onward a monthly sheet of congregation instructions, called the Informant, was to be issued. Groups and congregations would be visited every six months by a circuit overseer, and circuit assemblies would also be held.

Circuit Activity Begins
There can be no doubt that the expansion of Kingdom interests was greatly encouraged by the activity of the traveling overseers who visited the congregations to upbuild the brothers, teaching them theocratic principles and training them in the preaching work. Do you remember Umberto Vannozzi who met Brother Knorr and Sister Maria Pizzato in 1945? (mentioned at the outset) During the 1930’s he had carried on pioneer service in France, Belgium and Holland, largely underground. After meeting Brother Knorr, he went on to visit the brothers scattered in various parts of Italy, to reestablish contact with them before the arrival of the missionaries. So it was that during the months of May and June 1946 he visited the largest existing groups of brothers.

The first appointed circuit overseer, however, was Brother George Fredianelli, who began his visits in November 1946. He was accompanied the first time around by Brother Vannozzi.
In 1947 the second circuit was formed and originally assigned to Brother Giuseppe Tubini. When this brother entered Bethel service a few months later, Brother Piero Gatti took his place. Both these brothers had come to a knowledge of the truth in Switzerland in one of the many refugee camps full of thousands of Italian soldiers who had fled to escape the Nazis. Many more brothers who had learned the truth abroad came back in the immediate postwar period to bring the Kingdom message to Italy. After 33 years Brother Tubini and Brother Gatti are still in the full-time service, the former at Bethel and the latter in the circuit work. (as of the time this was published)

First Circuit Assembly
In September 1947 the first circuit assembly was held at Roseto degli Abruzzi. (shown in the illustration above) It should have been held at Pescara, but there, as a result of clergy opposition, permission to use the hall was canceled. Undaunted, the brothers met in a private cul-de-sac that could be reached only through Brother Domenico Cimorosi’s garden. The road was closed and covered with tarpaulins, and a table was placed under a shady canopy of vines to serve as the speaker’s podium. About 100 happy brothers attended.
Usually, in the early 1950’s, assemblies would open with only 40 to 60 present, while at the public talk there would generally be an average attendance of 200 persons. The brothers thought it was marvelous to have such a number!
The work continued to progress, and in 1954 Brother George Fredianelli was assigned to work as district overseer.

Brother Vannozzi’s Travels
An account of Brother Vannozzi’s travels will help us to realize the many discomforts traveling overseers had to put up with in those days. He wrote:
“I left Como and, after all kinds of adventures, I finally reached Foggia in the region of Puglia. I looked around for the station, but all in vain—it had been razed to the ground in a bombing raid. I took a train for Cerignola, where I was directed for my first visit, but at a certain point I was told that the train did not go any farther and I had to proceed by truck. I arrived at my destination at seven o’clock in the evening of the day after, very tired and dusty. In spite of everything, I felt rewarded when, at the meeting, a brother thanked Jehovah in prayer that after all these years of waiting, they had finally been visited by someone from the organization. The brothers cried at the end of the visit and I was also deeply moved.

“I traveled throughout Italy on roads still damaged due to the ravages of war, and I never saw a bridge left standing. Twenty-two thousand bridges had been blown up, and those that could be crossed were those that had been temporarily repaired by the Allies. I saw hundreds of burned-out railway carriages and locomotives, and all the towns had suffered bomb damage.

“I left Cerignola at six in the morning to visit the group at Pietrelcina, in the province of Benevento. I arrived at Benevento at seven in the evening, after having sat for three hours on my luggage in a cattle wagon! When I arrived at the station, I waited as agreed with a Watchtower magazine in my hand so that the brothers would recognize me. But nobody turned up. What should I do?

“Pietrelcina was still about 12 kilometers [7 mi.] away, and at that time in the evening there was no means of getting there. As I was standing there waiting, a man with a horse-drawn two-wheeled buggy offered me a lift. It was 9:30 in the evening and I started to look for the house of Brother Michele Cavalluzzo in the dark. It was no easy undertaking. But Jehovah’s angel was watching over me and did not leave me in despair. Finally, I found the house and Brother Michele Cavalluzzo joyfully had a meal quickly prepared for me. Was I hungry! I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous evening. I was also very tired and longing to go to bed, but dear Brother Cavalluzzo had many questions to ask me and wanted to tell me, from beginning to end, how he had come into the truth. So we stayed up till midnight. The next morning the telegram announcing my arrival was delivered, but I had won the race—I got there first!

“Nearly every evening about 35 people attended the meetings, although there were almost no baptized brothers. I left Pietrelcina for Foggia at 4 a.m. I climbed up on a horse-drawn cart driven by one of the brothers and accompanied by the overseer, Brother Donato Iadanza. Although we were no longer in the 1920’s, this was the commonest means of transport immediately after the war. We arrived at Benevento at 6 a.m. but, alas, the train had already left.

“At this point someone suggested I talk with a train engineer who was taking a locomotive through to Foggia. I caught up with him as he was grumbling to some other people, who were also trying to get a ride. I heard him say he had no room for passengers. In spite of this we all climbed aboard, and Brother Iadanza just managed to run after the engine in time to pass me my case. I squeezed into the narrow space inside the locomotive with about 10 other people, and there we stayed, packed like sardines for the whole five-hour journey. We were all sweating because of the heat and lack of air and were abundantly singed by the sparks flying out from underneath the boiler. When we arrived near Foggia, the engineer stopped the locomotive in the middle of the countryside, and we all got off.

“After that I visited the groups at Spoltore, Pianella, Montesilvano, Roseto degli Abruzzi and Villa Vomano. My last visit of the series was to Faenza, where about 50 persons were attending the meetings. I encouraged the younger ones to take up the pioneer service, and in my report on the group I wrote: ‘Let us hope that one day some of these young people will decide to enroll in the ranks of those carrying on this privileged service.’”

Circuit Activity Of Brother Fredianelli
Brother George Fredianelli, a member of the Branch Committee (as of the time this was published), recalls the following events from his circuit activity:
“When I called on brothers I would find relatives and friends all waiting for me and anxious to listen. Even on return visits people called in their relatives. In actual fact, the circuit overseer didn’t give just one public talk a week, but one a few hours long at every return visit. At these calls there might even be 30 persons present and sometimes many more gathered together to listen attentively.
“The aftermath of the war often made life in the circuit work difficult. The brothers, like most other people, were very poor, but their loving-kindness made up for it. They wholeheartedly shared the little food they had, and often they would insist that I sleep on the bed while they lay down on the floor without covers because they were too poor to have any extra ones. Sometimes I had to sleep in the cow stall on a heap of straw or dried corn leaves.

“On one occasion, I arrived at the station of Caltanissetta in Sicily with a face as black as a chimney sweep’s from the soot flying out of the steam engine in front. Although it had taken me 14 hours to travel about 80 to 100 kilometers [50 to 60 mi.], my spirits rose on arrival, as I conjured up visions of a nice bath followed by a well-earned rest in some hotel or other. However, it was not to be. Caltanissetta was teeming with people for the celebration of St. Michael’s Day, and every hotel in town was packed full of priests and nuns. Finally I went back to the station with the idea of lying down on a bench that I had seen in the waiting room, but even that hope vanished when I found the station closed after the arrival of the last evening train. The only place I found to sit down and rest a while was the steps in front of the station.”

With the help of the circuit overseers the congregations began to hold regular Watchtower and book studies. Furthermore, as we improved the quality of service meetings, the brothers became more and more qualified in the preaching and teaching work.
those were some dedicated, hard-working brothers! =)