The following article is the second of six stories in a series titled, Milestones and Miracles: The heritage of Latter-day Saints in Europe. These articles were researched and authored by James Perry, PhD, FHEA, historian and writer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The upcoming book ‘Saints – volume 3’ will include many other stories and events regarding the establishment of the Church in Europe.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organised with six members on April 6, 1830 in a small cabin in upstate New York. Since those humble beginnings more than 190 years ago, the Church has grown to 16.5 million members in nearly 31,000 congregations globally. Early on, Church leaders sent missionaries abroad to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ across the world. In September 1850, Italy was dedicated for missionary work by Lorenzo Snow, T. B. H. Stenhouse, and Jabez Woodard and closed 17 years later. Following the faith, sacrifice and devotion of four members that the Italian Mission was once again rededicated in 1966 by Ezra Taft Benson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at that time.
On a summer’s day in 1958 a woman and three men stood on a quiet lane in the hamlet of Comerzo, Italy, watching and waiting for the arrival of President and Sister Christensen of the French Mission. The four Saints were the only members in their area of Italy, which had a population of some 49 million. Other than occasional visits from Church leaders and other members, this small band of Saints was isolated and hundreds of miles from the nearest members.
President and Sister Christensen were not too sure of their direction and initially the passed the lane before doubling back. Expressions of love and warm greetings were shared as the Christensens met with Pietro and Felicita Snaidero, Santo Beltrame, and Luigi Pittini. All four were in their sixties or seventies and had been members for several years. Pietro and Felicita had been introduced to the Church in 1949 while they lived in Cannes, France. Their daughter and her family had joined the Church and sought to share the gospel message with them. Pietro and Felicita were baptised later in 1951 along with Santo Beltrame, a man they had begun sharing the gospel with. A fourth person, Luigi Pittini, was baptised a few years later after he too was taught by the Snaideros.
Santo and Luigi travelled for many miles by bicycle to be at the meeting with the Christensens, which was something they did every week for their sacrament meeting. After eight years Santo had only missed one meeting. The Snaideros led the small group of Saints into their humble home for a cold drink. While socialising in their kitchen Felicita opened a door that led into a small one room chapel that Pietro had built by himself. Despite no knowledge of carpentry and only a saw and hammer he knew their small band of Saints needed somewhere to worship and he had taken it upon himself to do something about it.
The room was only seven foot wide and fifteen foot long but there were two small windows with a vase set in each. The wood floor had been scrubbed white and four small cane-bottom chairs stood on each side of the room. A small table was set with tiny glass sacrament cups and bread in preparation for their weekly sacrament meeting. Three song books were marked indicating the four songs that the Italian Saints knew they could sing in French. On one end of the room was a picture of the Salt Lake Temple set on the wall and on the other end was a picture of The First Presidency.
President and Sister Christensen joined the four Italian Saints for their sacrament meeting. Of that occasion Sister Christensen recalled: “Our Heavenly Father poured out as much of His spirit and inspiration in that small place as in our most beautiful tabernacle or chapel in the States. We were all privileged to bear our testimony.”
After the meeting Santo Beltrame presented three years’ worth of tithing to President Christensen, which he had been unable to donate for some time. Brother Pittini also donated his small means to the Church. Despite being far from an organised branch and while living in isolation the Italian members sought to keep the covenants they had made, despite constant opposition from local priests.
The group then enjoyed a meal that Sister Snaidero had spent hours preparing. Her daughter had sent them some foods that they had saved for this special occasion and they were only too pleased to share it with their fellow Saints who had travelled so far.
A few months after the Christensen’s meeting with the humble Saints in Comerzo, Italy, Pietro and Felicita made the journey to the Bern Temple where they were sealed together for time and all eternity. Sadly, however, Santo Beltrame died just a short time later. He never did get the chance to attend the temple but a year later the ordinances were performed for him vicariously. The Saints continued to faithfully meet in Comerzo until missionaries arrived and congregations began to be formed in Italy. Years of faithfulness were rewarded and they witnessed tremendous growth of the Church in Italy.
The contributions of these dedicated Latter-day Saints helped the Church grow from four members in 1958 to nearly 27,500 members who attend 95 congregations in Italy today. For up-to-date information about the Church in Italy, click here.
From the early days of the Church to modern times, Latter-day Saints have given their time, talents and skills to the work of the Church in Europe. If you have additional insight about Pietro and Felicita Snaidero, Santo Beltrame, or Luigi Pittini or a personal experience of a Church member whose contributions would be of interest to others in the Europe Area, please submit your information or story to EUAChurchHist@ChurchofJesusChrist.org