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In the Book Episode 18: "The Book Without a Name: Vincenzo di Francesca (1888-1966) with Tommaso Cardullo"

Episode Transcript

“The Book Without a Name” with Vincenzo di Francesca, read by Tommaso Cardullo

Vincenzo: [00:00:00] As I think back to the events in my life leading to a cold morning in New York City in February 1910, I cannot escape the feeling that God has been mindful of my existence.

Rebecca: Vincenzo di Francesca received a note from the pastor of an Italian chapel in the city, saying that he was ill in bed, and wanted Vincenzo to come to his house to discuss some important affairs of the parish.

Vincenzo: As I walked down Broadway, the strong wind from the open sea moved the pages of a book lying on a barrel full of ashes. The form of the pages and the binding gave me the idea that it was a religious book. Curiosity pushed me to approach it. I picked it up and beat it against the barrel to knock off the ashes. It was printed in the English idiom, but when I looked to the frontispiece, I found it [00:01:00] was torn away.

The fury of the wind turned the pages, and I hastily read Alma, Mosiah, Mormon, Moroni, Isaiah, Lamanites. Except for Isaiah, all were names I had never before heard.

Rebecca: Vincenzo di Francesca was born on September 23rd, 1888 in Gratteri in the province of Palermo, Sicily, in the Kingdom of Italy.

In 1905, he sailed to New York City where he attended Knox College, and then became a pastor.

After a faith-filled life, he died in Palermo on November 18, 1966.

As recorded in his own words, Vincenzo di Francesca's exceptional history with the Book of Mormon will be read today by Tommaso Cardullo of Catania, Italy. [00:02:00]

Vincenzo would later say of the book,

Vincenzo: I read and reread twice, and twice again, I found it fit to say that the book was the fifth gospel of the Redeemer.

Rebecca: I'm Rebecca Devonas, and you're listening to In The Book.

This is a podcast where we flood the earth with testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

Vincenzo wrapped the book in a newspaper he bought nearby and continued walking toward the pastor's house.

Vincenzo: On the way home I wondered who the people with the strange names might be. And who was this Isaiah? Was he the one in the Bible or some other Isaiah?

[00:03:00] At home, I seated myself before the window, anxious to know what was printed in the book. As I turned the torn pages and read the words of Isaiah, I was convinced that it was a religious book that talked of things to come. But unknown was the name of the church that taught such doctrine, because the cover - the frontispiece - had been stripped off. The declaration of the witnesses gave me confidence that it was a true book.

Rebecca: Vincenzo then bought 20 cents worth of denatured alcohol and some cotton at a drugstore and began cleaning the pages.

Vincenzo: For several hours, I read the … pages which gave me light and knowledge and left me charmed to think of the source from which this fresh revelation had come.

At the end of [00:04:00] the day, I locked the door of my room, knelt with the book in my hands, and read chapter 10 of the book of Moroni.

“And when ye shall receive this thing, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true. If ye ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost, he might know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:4-5)

I prayed to God, the Eternal Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to tell me if the book were of God, if it were good and true, and if I should mix its word with the words of the four Gospels in my [00:05:00] preaching.

I felt my body become cold as the wind from the sea. Then my heart began to palpitate, and the feeling of gladness as of finding something precious and extraordinary bore consolation to my soul and left me with a joy that human language cannot find words to describe. I had received the assurance that God had answered my prayer and that the book was of the greatest benefit to me and to all who would listen to its words.

Rebecca: Vincenzo continued his services in the parish, but said that his preaching was tinged with the new words of the book, and that they were well received.

The congregations at his sermons were growing, while those of his colleagues were dwindling. [00:06:00] Some even left other chapels during the sermons. and remained when Vincenzo occupied the pulpit.

As a result, Vincenzo's colleagues became angry with him.

Vincenzo: The beginning of real discord began Christmas Eve, 1910.

In my sermon that evening, I told the story of the birth and mission of Jesus Christ, as given in my new book.

“...he shall be born of Mary at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” (Alma 7:10)

When I finished, some of my colleagues publicly contradicted all I had [00:07:00] said.

They denounced me and turned me over to the committee of censor for disciplinary action.

When I appeared before this committee, the members gave what they supposed to be fatherly advice. They counseled me to burn the book, which they said was of the devil, since he had caused so much trouble, and had destroyed the harmony of the pastoral brothers.

I replied, “I will not burn the book because of the fear of God. I have asked him if it were true, and my prayer was answered affirmatively and absolutely.”

Rebecca: In 1914, Vincenzo was brought again before the council.

The vice venerable spoke in a friendly tone, suggesting that the sharp words at the previous hearing may have provoked [00:08:00] Vincenzo, which was regrettable since they all loved him.

However, he said, Vincenzo must remember that obedience is the rule and that he must burn the book.

Vincenzo: I could not deny the words of the book, nor burn it, since in so doing I would offend God. I said that I looked forward with joy to the time when the church to which the book belonged would be made known to me, and I could become part of it.

“Enough! Enough!” The vice venerable cried.

He then read the decision … I was to be stripped of my position as a pastor of the church and of every right and privilege I had previously enjoyed.

Rebecca: Later that same year, Vincenzo was drafted into the Italian army at the [00:09:00] beginning of World War I.

Vincenzo: Once I related to some men in my company the story of the people of Ammon; how they refused to shed the blood of their brothers and buried their arms rather than be guilty of such great crimes.

Rebecca: The chaplain reported Vincenzo to the colonel, where he was asked to retell what he had relayed to the other soldiers.

When asked how he had come into possession of the book, he received a ten day punishment of bread and water and an order to stop speaking of it.

Vincenzo: After the end of the war, I returned to New York, where I met an old friend, a pastor of my former church. He interceded for me with the Synod, and I was finally admitted to the congregation as a lay member.

Rebecca: But once he incorporated the teachings from his unnamed book while on a mission trip, Vincenzo was cut off from the Church once more and returned to [00:10:00] Italy.

While searching for some information in a dictionary in May of 1930, Vincenzo suddenly saw the word “Mormon”. Reading the description carefully, he learned that a church had been established in 1830, exactly 100 years earlier, and that this church had a university in a place called Provo!

Vincenzo wrote to the university president asking for information about the book and its missing pages.

Two weeks later, he received a reply saying his letter had been passed on to the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Vincenzo: On June 16, 1930, President Heber J. Grant answered my letter and sent a copy of the Book of Mormon in Italian. He inform me that it would also give my request to Elder John A. Widtsoe, President of the European Mission, [00:11:00] with headquarters in Liverpool.

A few days later, Elder Widtsoe wrote to me, sending me a pamphlet that contained the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the gold plates, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. At long last, I learned the rest of the story of the torn book I had found on top of a barrel of ashes.

Rebecca: On June 5, 1932, John Widtsoe went to Naples to baptize Vincenzo, but a revolution between fascists and antifascists had broken out in Sicily, and the police in Palermo refused to let Vincenzo leave.

In January 1937, Richard Lyman wrote to Vincenzo saying that he and Hugh B. Brown would be in Rome on a certain day and could perform the baptism if Vincenzo was able to meet them.

Vincenzo: However, the letter [00:12:00] was delayed because of a war condition and I did not receive it in time.

From 1940 until 1949, I was cut off from all news of the Church, but I remained a faithful follower and preached the gospel of the dispensation of the fullness of times.

I had copies of the standard works and translated chapters into Italian and sent them to acquaintances with the greeting, “Good day, the morning breaks! Jehovah speaks.”

Rebecca: 1949, Vincenzo tried to connect once again with the Church. He penned and sent a letter to John Widtsoe at church headquarters in Salt Lake City. But because John had been out of the country, Vincenzo didn't receive a reply until October 3, 1950.[00:13:00]

Vincenzo: I sent him a long letter in reply, in which I asked him to help me to be quickly baptized, because I felt that I had proven myself to be a faithful son and a servant of God, observing the laws and commandments of his kingdom. Elder Widtsoe asked President Samuel E. Bringhurst of the Swiss Austrian Mission to go to Sicily to baptize me.

Rebecca: On January 18, 1951, President Bringhurst baptized Vincenzo at Imerese.

It was the first baptism performed in Sicily.

Vincenzo: When I came up out of the water, I said, “I have prayed daily for many years for this moment.”

As President Bringhurst and his wife left, I shook their hands tenderly and told them, “My dear brother and sister Bringhurst, you can hardly imagine how [00:14:00] sweet those words brother and sister are to me. I say them with a feeling of affection and appreciation that I've never before experienced, for I know that you have led me through the door that will eventually bring me back to my Heavenly Father, if I am faithful.”

Rebecca: When I think of Vincenzo di Francesca, I am led to think of President Russell M. Nelson's rhetorical questions: “How precious is the Book of Mormon to you? If you were offered diamonds or rubies,” - and I might add your job or your reputation - “or the Book of Mormon, which would you choose? Honestly, which is of greater worth to you?”

To read Vincenzo's biographical account, go to the link in the episode description to the January 1988 Ensign article titled “I Will Not Burn the Book”, taken from an article in the May [00:15:00] 1968 Improvement Era and from a letter that Vincenzo wrote to Ortho R. Fairbanks. That letter is in the Church archives and is the only known account by the author in English of his 40 year struggle to join the Church.

Scripture passages from the Book of Mormon used in this episode were selected by myself and I produced this episode with voiceover by Tommaso Cardullo.

I'm Rebecca Devonas, and this is In The Book.