With his recent Sept. 3-12 travel to the Europe Area, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles became the first senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to travel in person on an international assignment since last year’s COVID-19 onslaught.
And for the first time in the same pandemic period, many Latter-day Saints in and around Stuttgart, Germany, and Milan, Italy, joined in large-scale Church gatherings, participating in the Apostle-led instructional meetings, devotionals and conferences.
Those “firsts” resulted in Elder Bednar and participating leaders and members recognizing the power and effects of gathering, the restored gospel, the rising generation and the teachings of the Holy Ghost.
“The opportunity to gather and the power associated with gathering was very evident,” Elder Bednar said. “We live at a time when there is increasing commotion and chaos in the world, and that will continue.”
As Latter-day Saints turn their focus to Jesus Christ, the covenant pathway becomes more sure and certain, explained Elder Bednar. “His atoning sacrifice can enable us and strengthen us when we do not think we can keep pressing forward.”
Their itinerary included:
- Stuttgart, Germany — a meeting with the Alpine German-Speaking Mission, instruction meetings with priesthood leaders and sister leaders, a special stake conference broadcast to all stakes in the coordinating council, and a “rising generation” devotional with youth and young adults in the same area.
- Frankfurt, Germany — a review of the Europe Area, visit to the Frankfurt Germany Temple and meeting with the Germany Frankfurt Mission.
- Milan, Italy — devotional with stake Relief Society, Young Women and Primary presidencies; meeting with the Italy Milan Mission; instruction meetings with priesthood leaders and sister leaders; and a special Sunday stake broadcast to all members in Italy.
‘An exceptional spiritual confirmation’
During the all-Italy conference, “technology opened the way for Elder Bednar to conceivably share his witness of our Savior with people throughout an entire nation,” said Elder Cook.
Elder Bednar taught principles of the restored gospel to those who are not members of the Church before addressing the members. “I felt a strong, confirming witness that he is a latter-day Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Elder Cook added.
Laura Cecchetto, a member of the Milan Italy East Stake, said the meeting served as “an exceptional spiritual confirmation.”
She had invited her nonmember husband to join her in attending in person the special conference. Paolo Cecchetto, a two-time Paralympian who recently returned from medaling at the Tokyo Paralympics, accepted and accompanied her. They are the parents of three sons, including one serving a mission in France.
“Seconds before Elder Bednar stood up to speak to all of us,” Laura Cecchetto recalled, “I prayed this short prayer within myself: ‘Lord, I ask that, through the words of this servant of yours, you may speak to the heart of Paolo.’ ”
Elder Bednar then stood up, announcing he would first speak to the nonmembers. “Of the 55 minutes he spent there, he spent 45 minutes talking to all those who were not part of the Church,” Laura Cecchetto said, adding that it seemed to her that her husband was the only nonmember present in the stake center.
“What a testimony I have received,” she continued. “I felt how, despite all my mistakes, the Lord loves me, how He listens to my prayers and the prayers of my boys.”
Paolo Cecchetto was impressed with Elder Bednar’s words and delighted to be there, Laura Cecchetto said.
“I do not know if and when my husband will decide to be baptized, but I bear my testimony that I felt the love of the Lord very strongly that Sunday. And I clearly felt this prompting in my heart: ‘I know what your heart’s desire is; continue to have faith!’”
‘Faithful to our covenants’
Bishop Emanuele Elia, of the Como 1st Ward in the Milan Italy West Stake, said receiving Elder Bednar’s instruction was a great privilege that nourished him with more knowledge and pure love for God. “Through the Holy Ghost, I understood even more the value of covenants and how it is essential to keep the faith.”
While listening, he thought of the Old Testament trio of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, thrown into a fiery furnace for their refusal to bow down in worship of a gold idol. They came out unharmed, and King Nebuchadnezzar recognized the power of God.
“They kept their covenants,” the bishop told the Church News, “and the Lord was bound with them and did not abandon them.”
Bishop Elia expressed his wish to pass on his learnings to his ward members and his prayer that it can benefit and bring a greater desire to serve the Lord and others. “Christ lives and this is His work. I know for a surety that if we remain faithful to our covenants, even when it is not easy, He will not abandon us because He will be bound with us because of our devotion.”
The visiting leaders met with youth and young adults in the Sept. 5 “rising generation” devotional in Stuttgart.
“They were so eager to learn; they were so receptive to counsel,” Elder Bednar said. “It was a joyous experience — they were joyful to have the opportunity to gather together, both in person and virtually.”
That “rising generation” also includes young full-time missionaries, with Elder Bednar and Elder Cook meeting with three missions during their Europe assignment.
Both had served as young full-time missionaries in Germany in the 1970s, when proselyting consisted primarily of tracting and knocking on doors all day. Today, often confined to their apartments, elders and sisters in the three missions are using social media on smartphones to reach and teach others.
“It is a different world,” Elder Bednar said. “The message is the same, and helping people learn about the gospel is the same. But the tools we use are vastly different than when I was a missionary.”
Two missionaries attending the meeting held with the Germany Frankfurt Mission shared their learnings, which underscored the role of the Holy Ghost in their lives and in their proselyting efforts.
“The Holy Ghost teaches, not us,” Elder John Richard Seeley of Kuna, Idaho, told the Church News. “It is our responsibility as missionaries to invite Him in.”
Sister Talita Selina Koch of Schneisingen, Switzerland, said: “We have to take the step to move forward with the Spirit, and then our faith will become stronger. If we all rely on Jesus Christ and move forward together, the Spirit will come with a stronger power. This kind of righteousness can fill our bodies and make our testimonies pure and bold.”
Influences in women’s lives
Similar to the unscripted, question-and-answer format of the devotional with the youth and young adults, meetings were held in Stuttgart and Milan with stake Relief Society, Young Women and Primary presidents, prior to them joining with priesthood leaders for combined instruction.
Sister Sibylle Fingerle, a Europe Area organization adviser who attended the Stuttgart meetings, said that through Elder Bednar’s teachings, “I felt through the Holy Ghost that the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles do care about the women in the Church. And as they do, how much deeper are we as women loved by our Heavenly Father. This testimony was confirmed.”
Sister Fingerle said she understands with more clarity the importance of lifelong covenants with God and how the priesthood can influence one’s life — especially Latter-day Saint women. As women keep the promises and participate in ordinances, “the power of God flows unto us.”
She added: “What a blessing not just to listen to the words an Apostle says but to feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”
‘Declaring his witness’
Elder Cook said he witnessed “many Latter-day Saints who were weighed down with challenges be lifted as Elder Bednar encouraged them to draw strength from their covenants and ordinances, including partaking of the sacrament weekly.”
He also saw how they were “lifted by his sincere expressions of love and appreciation, resulting in a great feeling of unity.”
“With the COVID situation, it felt like a miracle that we were in Europe. I felt the protection and guiding hand of the Lord. There is great power when an Apostle is in the country declaring his witness.”