April 3, 2016, will forever be a historic day for Latter-day Saints in Italy.
For the first time, one of their own — a “paesano” — was called to be a General Authority.
While Elder Massimo De Feo’s recent assignment as a General Authority Seventy signaled a key moment in Church history, his own introduction to the Church was far more commonplace. Young Massimo — then a 9-year-old living in Taranto, Italy — learned of the restored gospel when two missionaries knocked on the door of his home.
His parents, Vittorio and Velia De Feo, were not interested in the elders’ message, but they allowed their two young sons, Alberto and Massimo, to listen.
“Our parents never accepted the gospel, but they felt it was good and they felt good about their two children growing up in the gospel with good principles,” Elder De Feo told the Church News.
The 55-year-old convert acknowledged it was sometimes a challenge not to have parents involved in the church he and his brother quickly came to love. But he remains grateful for their support.
“They saw the fruits of our decision,” he said. “They saw we were good kids who wanted to do good things.”
Alberto and Massimo’s beliefs were challenged outside the home. They were the only members in their school in a community with deep Catholic roots and centuries-old traditions. The brothers made it a point to avoid contention and looked for opportunities to explain the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with others.
“It wasn’t always easy,” remembered Elder De Feo. “We had our ups and downs as teenagers.”
The new General Authority said he found strength through Albert.
“My brother has always been my greatest example. His testimony helped me stay strong and remain in the gospel.”
Although the Church in Taranto was small in number, it was strong in spirit and support. Loving branch presidents, primary teachers and, later, Aaronic Priesthood advisors always made him feel he belonged.
“I found the right people at the right time; the Lord has always protected me.”
As Massimo matured through his Primary and Mutual years he became friends with several Latter-day Saint youth. “We spent most of our time at Church. There was something happening almost every day after school.”
Counted among his Mutual pals was Loredana Galeandro, a fellow convert. She was baptized at 14 following a long period of personal prayer and study. Once converted, she said, “my greatest desire was to serve the Lord.”
Whenever she attended Sabbath meetings, she noticed the couples who were raising their children in the Church. She wanted the same.
“I had a desire to have an eternal family,” she said. “I made a decision that I would only marry a man who loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him.”
Massimo’s and Loredana’s friendship deepened as they served in the branch and enjoyed Mutual activities together. But when Massimo graduated from high school he knew he belonged on a full-time mission.
Elder De Feo said he learned key lessons of sacrifice and love from his father, Vittorio De Feo, as he prepared for his mission call. The De Feo family had few financial resources, and, again, neither Vittorio nor his wife, Velia, were members. But the elder De Feo knew his son wanted to share the message of the gospel.
“My father asked me, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ ” said Elder De Feo. “I said, ‘Yes, with all my heart I want to serve the Lord.’ ”
Vittorio promised to do all he could to help cover the cost of two years of missionary service. A short time later, in 1981, Massimo left for the Italy Rome Mission.
“I considered that money to be sacred — it was the fruit of great sacrifice from a man who did not believe in the Church,” said Elder De Feo with misty eyes. “So I served my mission with all my mind, heart and strength because I loved the Lord and I loved my father.”
His mission would double as a classroom, teaching lessons that serve him well to this day:
Hard work. Dedication. Focus. Reliance on the Lord.
“And always be willing to sacrifice,” he said.
Loredana wrote her friend throughout his mission. When he returned to Taranto they began dating and married in the Bern Switzerland Temple in August of 1984. Elder and Sister De Feo are the parents of three children.
The recently called Seventy has been able to trace the Lord’s hand throughout his life. A district president he met on his mission later recommended him for a job at the American embassy in Rome. He worked in international relations for more than 30 years prior to his most recent Church calling.
His professional duties put him in a position to help the Church grow in Italy. He presided over the Rome Italy Stake when ground was broken for the construction of his country’s first temple, the Rome Italy Temple. He would later serve as an Area Seventy.
“This is the best time ever for the Church in Italy,” he observed. “There are 10 stakes. Thirty years ago, there were only branches. It’s amazing to see the growth. We’ve all grown with the Church.”
Elder and Sister De Feo say they’ve experienced a plethora of emotions since his call as a General Authority Seventy.
“It sometimes feels like we are in the eye of the storm, but there is calm all around us,” said Sister De Feo. “We have complete trust in the Lord.”
The calling as a General Authority Seventy “is all new.... We’re still adjusting,” said Elder De Feo. “But we know we are not alone. We are relying on the Lord.”
Elder Massimo De Feo
Family: Born Dec. 14, 1960, in Taranto, Italy, to Vittorio and Velia De Feo. Married Loredana Galeandro on August 14, 1984, in the Bern Switzerland Temple. Three children.
Education: Diploma in sciences from the Moscati State Scientific School of Taranto, 1979.
Employment: Thirty-two year career in international relations at United States embassies in Rome and Paris. Deputy regional federal benefits officer of the Social Security Administration for the Europe South, North Africa and Middle East Areas.
Church service: Full-time missionary, Rome Italy Mission, 1981-1983. Branch president, district president, counselor in bishopric, high councilor, stake president and Area Seventy.
[email protected] @JNSwensen