Italian District Assembly Aids Free Worship
TRUE Christians, unhampered by worldly religious-political ties and prejudices, possess a most favored position in being able to exemplify their freedom before a divided world. This brings them much personal joy as well, knowing that their God-given work is right, and that the most valued possession they could furnish their hearers is the truth which they tell from God’s Word. A further benefit they frequently bestow upon their fellow man is the securing of his freedoms while successfully defending their own. Therefore, where opposition is met, they lawfully and boldly stand for their rights.
The land of Italy, bastion of Catholicism and crucible of political strife, witnessed a demonstration of the foregoing when from October 27-29, 1950, Jehovah’s witnesses held their district assembly in Milan. This amounted to a national assembly as well, the first since May, 1947, during the visit that year by the president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
Due to the splendid increases in Italy since the arrival there in 1949 of a number of missionaries from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, provisions for hundreds of guests during the assembly would be necessary. Repeated announcements, chartered travel and securing of one of the finest meeting places in Milan, the Teatro dell’Arte, marked preassembly preparations.
But Italy is infested with religious bigots ready to fight Bible truth with ban and slander. Exactly as supposed, this pressure caused the police to deny use of the Teatro dell’Arte or any other public building to the assembly.
While the matter was being referred to the provincial head of police for final decision, further investigation revealed that the Milan police had acted out of harmony with the Italian government and in violation of Italy’s peace treaty with the Allied powers. The American Embassy was then prevailed upon to enter a protest with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Similar action was taken in the United States, where the Italian ambassador was contacted through the State Department. But little was expected from these inevitably slow and sluggish diplomatic channels.
Coupled with this, the provincial police head proved as shortsighted and tyrannical as his subordinates. With typical totalitarian logic he reasoned that the local Milan officials were democratic because of their excellent police force. What wisdom! In other words, Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin could be ranked with the staunchest democrats that ever lived, thanks to their superbly trained secret police! In his “generosity”, this official encouraged the applicants to secure a private hall for the assembly. A hall in Milan to hold almost 1,000 persons, and only a few days left to find it. No mean task!
Nevertheless, by Jehovah’s grace, 9:00 a.m., Friday, October 27, 1950, found Jehovah’s witnesses together for the opening of their assembly. No, not in the Teatro dell’Arte were they gathered, but in a large parking lot near the well-known Milan “Champion Fair”. Willing hands had labored till the previous midnight, arranging two large tents to form one “auditorium” equipped with fluorescent lights, and capable of seating 1,000 people, besides housing the assembly’s various departments.
Shortly the joyous assembly was discovered by the surprised police, a jeep-full of whom arrived, bristling with rifles. Finding that the witnesses were lawfully assembling on private property, the officer in charge made his report and shortly returned to announce that now the assembly could proceed with full police approval. Tyranny, bigotry and lawlessness had been defeated by law-abiding, persisting Christian courage.
The duration of the assembly fully assured the 900 in attendance that it was rich in divine blessings, for which all thanks was returned to Jehovah God. Others noticed it too. Usual necessary assembly advertising prohibited in Italy by totalitarian law was accomplished through the publicity afforded by the very oppositionists who sought to silence the event. To the time of compiling this report, two national weekly magazines have covered the assembly, accompanying their stories with numerous photographs. It is expected that increased attention will follow the missionary work throughout Italy as Jehovah’s witnesses there accompany their brothers world-wide in extending the invitation, “Praise Jah, you people.”—Rev. 19:6, NW.