More than a half-year after President Russell M. Nelson proclaimed Europe has “an unparalleled future,” Elder Massimo De Feo, a General Authority Seventy with a half-decade in area leadership in western and central Europe, sees opportunities and growth.
“From my perspective, President Nelson’s devotional gave new energy to all members in Europe,” said Elder De Feo, the 61-year-old native of Italy who served in the Europe Area presidency as a counselor beginning in 2017 and then the area president last year.
President Nelson spoke to Latter-day Saints in 48 European countries in a Jan. 23 devotional broadcast originating from Salt Lake City. “You have access to the power — God’s power — that will literally change the future of Europe,” he said. “As you keep your covenants with increasing precision, you are the hope of Europe and you are the hope of Israel.”
Elder De Feo said local Church leaders throughout Europe frequently remind Latter-day Saints there of the devotional. “Many refer to that as a framework for what needs to happen and how we should look at things in the Church and the future,” he said, adding: “It gave us new purpose. … It was very, very specific, even in some of the promises and the blessings.”
And the devotional was timely as well, coming just four weeks before the start of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. “We went back to [the] devotional, and we recognized immediately the hand of the Lord,” Elder De Feo said.
Elder De Feo said he tries to see beyond the tragedies of the conflict and challenges of refugees.
“I think we need to look at opportunities … so many members helping each other in a united effort, at all levels, in all countries,” he said in a recent Church News podcast. “I’ve seen solidarity. I’ve seen sincere love for others, the desire to help in any way possible. I’ve seen it all — really, the gospel in action and in practice.”
The conflict created an unprecedented unity among members throughout Europe, with many rising up to help arriving refugees. Meanwhile, Latter-day Saint refugees from Ukraine have integrated into and helped strengthen local wards with their testimonies, dedication and resilience, he said.
So, while the conflict’s temporal impacts have been tragic, Elder De Feo said, “certainly the spiritual effects are very positive across the board — in every place, country and unit of the Church in Europe.”
Since the January devotional and late February start of the conflict, there have been several noteworthy announcements for the Church in Europe.
During the April 2022 general conference, new temples were announced for Barcelona, Spain, and Birmingham, England, United Kingdom, joining previously announced temples for Vienna, Austria; Brussels, Belgium; Oslo, Norway, Budapest, Hungary; and a yet-to-be-determined site in Russia. The continent is already home to 14 dedicated temples.
And later in April, the Church announced a realignment of the Europe and Europe East areas, resulting in the Europe Central, Europe East and Europe North areas, headquartered respectively in Frankfurt, Germany; Moscow, Russia; and London, England. Elder De Feo now presides over the Europe Central Area.
For decades, waves of immigrants have passed through Europe, from neighboring countries within the continent as well as from beyond. “This is not new; this is our history. … Europe has a long history of immigration and how to help immigrants,” Elder De Feo said.
The Church is on the front line, eager to help and to work with local government and charitable organizations.
“We truly are all brothers and sisters, children of God, and because of that, we should do everything possible to help anyone with a need, regardless of personal circumstances, citizenship, language or culture,” he said. “The gospel is always inclusive and never exclusive.”
Elder De Feo noted that the January 2022 invitations and promises of a Prophet have European Latter-day Saints looking to a new day with a vision of faith. “If we believe in that, if we change our mindset and increase our faith … we can do it, and the Lord will move forward the work,” he said.
The main challenge for the members in Europe, he added, is “how to survive spiritually in a changing world that is trying to diminish faith and the role of Jesus Christ in our lives.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ provides answers to all the problems of the world — whether it be conflicts or pandemics and the challenges faced in individual lives, Elder De Feo said. He pointed to Luke 15 and the famine in the land that prompted the prodigal son to return to his father.
“That was an opportunity for the Lord to transform a tragic circumstance, a tragic event into an opportunity to go back to the Father,” he said, adding that in times of war, pandemic or personal challenges, “we need to act quickly and help and then look at the opportunity to transform that into a spiritual advantage, a spiritual opportunity to go back to the Father.”
Elder De Feo sees a spiritual future in Europe that can rival the area’s past — from mass conversions and pioneer emigration in the early days of the Church to the latter-day fortitude to survive political upheavals and two world wars.
“There is a spiritual legacy that, if understood from a spiritual perspective, can really make the difference for the Church again, like it did in the early stages of the growth of the restored Church.”