How My Spiritual Thirst Was Satisfied
AS TOLD BY LUCIA MOUSSANETT
NESTLED in the mountains of the northwest corner of Italy, near the Swiss Alps and close to France’s famous Mont Blanc, is the region of Valle d’Aosta. I was born there in 1941 in the small community of Challant St. Anselme.
I was the oldest of five children; my four siblings were boys. Mother was a hard worker and a devout Catholic. Father also came from a religious family. Two of his sisters were nuns. My parents made many material sacrifices for me, including making it possible for me to have an education. There were no schools in our small community, so when I was 11, my parents sent me to a boarding school run by nuns.
There I studied Latin and French, along with other subjects. Then, when I turned 15, I began to think seriously about how to serve God. I reasoned that entering a convent would be the best way to do it. My parents, however, did not like this idea, since Mother would be left with the care of my brothers. My parents had hoped that my education would lead to a good job and economic help for the family.
Though my parents’ reaction saddened me, I wanted a real purpose in life and felt that God should have first place. So, in 1961, I entered a Roman Catholic convent.
My Life as a Nun
For the first months, I studied the standards and rules of the church and did physical work around the convent. In August 1961, I began my novitiate, or apprenticeship, and started to wear the standard dress of nuns. I also proposed a new name for myself, Ines, my mother’s name. When it was accepted, I became known as Sister Ines.
Although most novitiates worked around the convent, I had enough schooling to work as an elementary-school teacher. Two years later, in August 1963, I took my vows, becoming a nun in the order of the Sisters of San Giuseppe in Aosta, Italy. Later, the convent supported my further education by sending me to the University of Maria Santissima Assunta in Rome.
When returning to Aosta in 1967 after finishing my studies in Rome, I began teaching in a high school. In 1976, I was offered the position of director of the school. Although I still taught some classes, I was assigned to the school administration and became a member of the Valle d’Aosta regional school board.
My real desire was to help the poor. My heart went out to them. So I organized a variety of social programs, including one for assisting the terminally ill who did not have families. I also set up a program to tutor children of immigrants. In addition, I found work and housing for the poor and became involved in providing medical assistance for those in need. I tried to live my life in harmony with the religious principles of the church.
At the time, I accepted Catholic theology, including such church teachings as the Trinity, immortality of the soul, and the Catholic views regarding man’s eternal future. By then, Catholic theology also allowed for such views as the plurality of faith, which meant accepting and coexisting with other religions.
Matters That Began to Bother Me
Yet, some activities within the Catholic Church bothered me. For example, before baptism and confirmation, parents and children were supposed to study what these steps mean. However, most never came to classes, and others didn’t make an effort to study. Moreover, some who were not accepted for baptism and confirmation at one parish would simply go to another parish to get baptized or confirmed there. To me, that was superficial and hypocritical.
Sometimes I would ask myself and fellow nuns, “Shouldn’t we preach the Gospel instead of dedicating ourselves to all kinds of other activities?” “We preach by doing good deeds,” was the answer I was given.
In addition, I had a hard time believing that I had to go to a priest to confess my sins. I reasoned that I should be able to talk to God about such personal matters. Further, the idea of memorizing and repeating prayers was difficult for me to accept. I also had a hard time believing that the pope was infallible. In time, I reasoned that I would maintain my own beliefs on such matters and simply carry on in my religious life.
Desire for Bible Knowledge
I always had a deep respect for and desire to know the Bible. Whenever I had to make a decision or felt the need of God’s support, I read the Bible. Though we never studied it in the convent, I read it on my own. The account at Isaiah 43:10-12, where Jehovah God said, “You are my witnesses,” always impressed me. At the time, however, I did not understand the full meaning of those words.
When attending the university in Rome in the mid-1960’s, I had taken a four-year theology course sponsored by the Vatican. But the Bible was not included as one of the textbooks. After returning to Aosta, I attended many ecumenical conferences, even those sponsored by interdenominational and non-Catholic organizations. That made me hungrier to know the teachings of the Bible. There was so much confusion among groups that claimed to be teaching about the same book!
Learning More About the Bible
In 1982, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses came by the center where I did social work and tried to draw me into a conversation about the Bible. Although I was very busy, the thought of learning about the Bible interested me. So I said, “Please come by my school, and when I have a free hour, we can talk.”
Although the woman did visit me, there was no “free hour” in my schedule. Then my mother learned that she had cancer, so eventually I took a leave of absence to help her. After her death in April 1983, I returned to my work, but by then the Witnesses had lost contact with me. Shortly thereafter, however, another Witness, in her mid-20’s, came by to speak about the Bible. I had been reading the Bible book of Revelation on my own. So I asked her, “Who are the 144,000 mentioned here in Revelation chapter 14?”
I had been taught that all good people would go to heaven, and so I could not see the logic of 144,000 of these apparently being separated from the others in heaven. I wondered, ‘Who are these 144,000? What do they do?’ These questions kept running through my mind. The Witness continued to try to find me, but I was on the move so often that she never succeeded.
Eventually, the Witness gave my address to Marco, an elder in her congregation. Finally, in February 1985, he found me. We spoke for only a few minutes, since I was busy, but we made an appointment. Later he and his wife, Lina, visited me regularly, helping me to understand the Bible. In a short time, I could see that such basic Catholic teachings as the Trinity, immortality of the soul, and hellfire simply were not based on the Bible.
Association With the Witnesses
When I went to a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses at their Kingdom Hall, it was obvious that things there were quite different from the Catholic Church. Everyone, not just a choir, sang. Then they participated in the meeting itself. I also began to see that the whole organization was made up of “brothers” and “sisters.” They all truly cared about one another. These things impressed me.
During that time, I attended meetings in my nun’s habit. Some were visibly touched to see a nun at the Kingdom Hall. I felt the joy and satisfaction that comes from being surrounded by the love of a large family. Also, as I studied, I began to see that many of the principles on which I had founded my life were not in harmony with God’s Word. For example, the Bible says nothing about servants of God wearing special garb. Church hierarchy and pomp were quite different from what the Bible teaches about humble elders taking the lead in the congregation.
I felt as though I were standing in quicksand, with no solid ground under my feet. It seemed impossible that I had lived in error for 24 years. Yet, I clearly recognized the ring of Bible truth. I was scared to think that at 44 years of age, I had to start my life all over again. But how could I continue to walk with my eyes closed now that I had seen what the Bible really teaches?
A Momentous Decision
I knew that leaving the convent would mean that I would have nothing economically. However, I remembered David’s words about the righteous ‘never being left nor their offspring having to beg for bread.’ (Psalm 37:25) I knew I would lose a measure of physical security, but I put my trust in God and reasoned, ‘What do I really need to fear?’
My family thought I was crazy. Although that bothered me, I remembered Jesus’ words: ‘Those who love father or mother more than me are not worthy of me.’ (Matthew 10:37) At the same time, simple gestures by Witnesses encouraged and strengthened me. As I walked down the street in my nun’s garb, they went out of their way to greet me. This made me feel even closer to the brotherhood and part of their family.
I finally went to the Mother Superior and explained why I had decided to leave the convent. Although I offered to show her in the Bible why I had made this decision, she refused to listen, saying: “If I want to understand anything in the Bible, I can call a Bible expert!”
The Catholic Church was shocked by my decision. They accused me of being immoral and of losing my mind. Yet, those who knew me knew that the accusations were false. People with whom I had worked reacted in different ways. Some saw what I was doing as an act of courage. Others were pained, thinking that I was heading out on a wrong course. Some even pitied me.
On July 4, 1985, I left the Catholic Church. Knowing how others had been treated for taking such a course, the Witnesses feared for my security and hid me for about a month. They picked me up for meetings and then drove me to where I was living. I stayed out of sight until things simmered down. Then, on August 1, 1985, I began to share in the ministry with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When I attended a District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses later that August, the news media got hold of the fact that I had left the church and published the story. When I was eventually baptized on December 14, 1985, the local television station and newspaper thought that it was so outrageous that they ran the story again, making sure that everyone would hear about what I had done.
When I left the convent, I had absolutely nothing materially. I had no work, no home, and no pension. So for about a year, I worked taking care of a paralyzed person. In July 1986, I became a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. I moved to an area where there was a small, newly formed congregation. There I gave private language lessons and did other tutoring, thus taking advantage of my schooling. This gave me a flexible schedule.
Serving in a Foreign Field
Now that I had learned Bible truth, I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Since I spoke French, I thought about serving in some African land where French is spoken. But then in 1992, Jehovah’s Witnesses received legal recognition in the nearby country of Albania. At the end of that year, a small group of pioneers from Italy was assigned there. Among them were Mario and Cristina Fazio from my congregation. They invited me to visit them and to consider serving in Albania. So after careful thought and prayer, at 52 years of age, I again left relative security to plunge into a completely different world.
That was in March 1993. Upon my arrival I immediately saw that even though I was not geographically far from my home country, I was in another world. People walked wherever they went, and they spoke Albanian, a language totally incomprehensible to me. The country was making massive changes, going from one political system to another. Yet, people were thirsting for Bible truth, and they loved to read and study. Bible students made rapid spiritual progress, and this warmed my heart, helping me to get adjusted to this new environment.
When I arrived in Tiranë, the capital city, in 1993, there was only one congregation in Albania and there were only a little more than 100 Witnesses scattered throughout the country. That month, at the first special assembly day held in Tiranë, 585 were present and 42 were baptized. Even though I did not understand anything, it was touching to hear the Witnesses sing and to see that they were so attentive. In April came the observance of the Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ, and 1,318 were present! From then on, the growth of Christian activity blossomed in Albania.
I used to look out at Tiranë from my fourth-floor balcony and wonder, ‘When will we ever be able to reach all these people?’ Jehovah God took care of that. There are now 23 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tiranë. In the whole country, there are 68 congregations and some 22 groups, with 2,846 Witnesses. All that growth in such a few years! And we had 12,795 present at the Memorial in 2002!
During these ten years in Albania, it has been my great privilege to help at least 40 individuals to the point of baptism. A number of them now also serve as pioneers and in other features of full-time service. Through the years, six groups of Italian pioneers were assigned to help with the work in Albania. For each group a three-month language course was set up, and I received an invitation to teach the last four classes.
When friends first learned about my decision to leave the church, their reactions were highly dramatic. After all these years, however, their attitude has softened, as they see that I am calm and at peace. Happily, my family, including a 93-year-old aunt who is still a nun, are also much more supportive.
Ever since I came to know Jehovah, he has taken care of me through so many different circumstances! He directed my feet to his organization. As I look back, I remember my longing to help the poor, underprivileged, and needy and my wish to be fully absorbed in service to God. That is why I thank Jehovah, for he has seen that my spiritual thirst has been satisfied.
[Picture on page 21]
An Albanian family with whom I have studied the Bible. Eleven have been baptized
[Picture on page 21]
Most of these women with whom I studied the Bible in Albania are now in the full-time ministry