From Village to Palace
To Sabbath School teachers: This story is for Sabbath, Feb. 8.
Father exploded in rage when 16-year-old Vincenzo Mazza returned home to their village on Italy’s island of Sicily and announced that he had been baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Father’s anger grew when the teen declared plans to become a pastor.
“If you go, don’t come back,” said Father, an impoverished World War II veteran who strictly raised five children.
Little did anyone realize that one day Vincenzo would lead the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Italy and study the Bible with the country’s president.
Father’s threats didn’t discourage the boy, who was baptized during an extended visit with an older brother, himself a new Adventist, in another city. Vincenzo traveled to the Adventist seminary, Villa Aurora, in Florence. On arrival, he learned that he couldn’t enroll without money and no work was available.
Disappointed, he walked around a small garden on the seminary grounds. He didn’t want to return to Sicily because Father would demand that he denounce his faith to live at home. He prayed desperately.
Suddenly, he heard a whisper in his ear. “Look into your shirt pocket,” it said.
Vincenzo reached into his pocket and found a piece of paper with the address of a German family whom he had met by chance on his arrival in Florence. The family had invited him to visit them in Karlsruhe, Germany.
He remembered that the Adventist Church had a seminary in Germany, in the city of Darmstadt. Counting his coins, he had just enough to buy a one-way train ticket to Karlsruhe, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Darmstadt.
Vincenzo took the train to Karlsruhe and, staying one night, told the family about his desire to study at the seminary. The family bought him a train ticket to Darmstadt.
The teen arrived with no money, no knowledge of German, and no directions to the seminary. He walked around for several hours, looking for the seminary. Reaching a forest, he kept walking and soon was lost. The sun was setting, and he was cold and afraid. Uncertain what to do, and he wept and prayed to God for help.
“Hey, young man!” a voice said, causing him to jump. “What are you looking for?”
Vincenzo hadn’t heard anyone approaching, and he looked up with surprise to see a small, old man with white hair. Astonishing him even more, the old man was speaking in German but he could understand everything that he said.
“I’m looking for the Adventist seminary,” Vincenzo replied in Italian.
“I’ll tell you how to get there,” said the old man, still speaking in German.
The old man gave detailed directions, and Vincenzo walked away. After several steps, he turned around to thank the kind stranger. He was gone.
Vincenzo reached the seminary and explained his situation to the teachers. They enrolled him and provided work.
Vincenzo went on to become a lifelong pastor of churches in Germany and Italy. He served as leader of the Adventist Church in Italy from 1995 until his retirement in 2000.
He kept in regular contact with his father. After much time had passed, Father begged Vincenzo for forgiveness.
“I have been an authoritarian father,” he said during a visit by Vincenzo, his wife, and two sons to Sicily one summer. “I recognize this, and I am very sad about what I have done to my children.”
As leader of the Adventist Church in Italy, Vincenzo once wrote a letter of gratitude to Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro for supportive remarks that the president had made about Protestants.
A few days after mailing the letter in 1997, President Scalfaro called to invite Vincenzo to visit the presidential palace.
After the first visit, they became good friends. President Scalfaro invited him several times and always said, “Pastor Mazza, please read the Bible with me. Please pray with me.”
A highlight of the friendship came when the president accepted an invitation from Vincenzo to attend the opening of an Adventist retirement home in Forle in 1998. The president’s presence transformed the low-key event into national news. People across Italy who had never heard about the Adventist Church were introduced to the church and the seventh-day Sabbath.
Today, Vincenzo is 70 and has advanced Parkinson’s disease. But he remains a pastor at heart, and he posts short sermons on his Facebook page.
Part of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will help renovate the main building at Marienhöhe Academy in Darmstadt, Germany. Thank you for planning a generous offering.