More than 150 years since the first Italian Latter-day Saints were baptized, and after decades-long efforts and negotiations, the Italian government has granted the Church official status as a church and “partner of the state.” As Maurizio Ventura, president of the Pisa congregation, explained, “The intesa is a fulfillment of a long-awaited blessing.” This legal status gives the Church greater freedom to do more good, both as a church and as a social institution.
Italy President Giorgio Napolitano signed the Intesa con lo Stato, or legal agreement, on 30 July, and the document will soon be published as law in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, the official journal of record of the Italian government. In contrast to the 1993 legislation that recognized the Church as only a charitable institution, the Church is now officially recognized as a religious denomination, along with the Catholic Church and a few others.
In fact, the agreement grants the highest status given to religions — which, until recently, numbered only about half a dozen besides the Catholic Church (including Jews, Baptists and Methodists). This status affords many benefits. As John Zackrison, director of the International Coordinating Committee for the Church, explained: “It will eliminate current barriers that frequently interfere with our Church leaders performing marriages and otherwise ministering, it will smooth the process for obtaining visas for missionaries and mission presidents, and it will grant unquestioned freedom for the Church to perform any functions or activities deemed essential to its worldwide mission,” as well as grant Latter-day Saint clergy the ability to visit members and those in need with automatic access to state hospitals, prisons and military barracks.
Additionally, the Church’s new status and strengthened relationships with government officials will enable the Church to work more effectively in community relief efforts with the Catholic Church and other recognized religious denominations.
“The secretary of the prime minister has already put me in touch with the minister of social activities,” said Giuseppe Pasta, the Church’s former national director of public affairs in Italy and current volunteer coordinator with government and religious institutions. “Important Italian entities are already reaching out to us from the left and from the right now that we are considered an official religious denomination.”
Most rewarding for many Mormons, however, is the long-awaited public recognition that the Church is a legitimate Christian faith. Ventura explained that the long process of achieving this historical event was a “time of work, a time of prayers, a time of preparation and finally a time of full recognition.” The acknowledgment of the Church’s full religious status with the government is “the most important blessing” and, in the words of Pasta (also a Mormon for more than 40 years), makes he and other Italian Latter-day Saints feel “very, very happy — we have been waiting for this for many years. We have been praying and fasting, striving to be better people, to receive the Lord’s help — and now we are here.”