An International Assembly in Rome
This report was received from N. H. Knorr, president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, while on a lecture tour of southern Europe, the Middle East and India.
THE world is full of turmoil. Nations are striving against nations. It seems each nation is waiting for one of the others to light the fuse that would start a third world war. In the meantime great preparations for a conflict go on in the powerful nations and the lesser nations follow suit with their little armies, all getting ready for the big day. While all this goes on in the troubled world, Jehovah’s witnesses keep on preaching the good news of God’s kingdom as man’s only hope. And they urge humankind to study God’s Word and change their thinking from these morbid thoughts of this system of things to God’s way of thinking. They should live for the new world of righteousness which will follow the battle of the great day of God Almighty.
It is a pleasure to be associated with people who are not burdened down with the problems of this dying society of Satan’s world, but who lift up their heads and rejoice, for they see that the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near. Jehovah’s witnesses are holding to their position with Christ Jesus, the anointed King, and they hearken to his words as recorded at Luke 21:34-36 (NW): “But pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and to hold your position before the Son of man.”
Jehovah’s witnesses world-wide are standing shoulder to shoulder doing Jehovah’s bidding under the direction of Christ Jesus, their Leader and Commander. They appreciate their responsibility and privilege of telling the people of the world what the signs of the times mean. This they do day in and day out, even unto the ends of the earth. From time to time these servants of God assemble together in conventions in different parts of the world, and such an assembly was arranged for in Rome, Italy, December 7-9, 1951. It was my pleasure to visit Rome and be with the Lord’s people in that land. Brother Milton Henschel traveled with me.
When we left the little group of the Bethel family that saw us off at the International airport in New York on December 5, we were pleased to find another American representative booked on the same plane. It was a happy trio that headed eastward toward Rome. There was a little delay of five hours at Gander, Newfoundland, on account of engine trouble, but we slept on the plane after we learned following our landing that there would be a delay. It was after 11 p.m. when we received the news. After the repairs were made and we took off to cross the Atlantic we all woke up, but it was not long until we were sleeping again. Flying so far north in December made the day short and it was dark before we reached Paris. When we arrived at Paris it was 7:15 p.m. There we had the opportunity to speak with two brothers from the Paris office.
After an hour we were off to Rome, reaching there just before midnight. When we disembarked huge spotlights were shining on the plane and we could not see anyone, but we heard some shouts of greetings and found that the graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead assigned to work in Italy and neighboring countries had hired a bus and were there to greet us. They had waited many hours on account of the lateness of the plane, but they were a joyful delegation just the same. There were many greetings to deliver to them from relatives and friends in America. They let us travel with them on the bus from the airport to Rome and we had the opportunity to say some things to them, but we looked forward to later occasions when we could enjoy talking with such faithful witnesses of Jehovah. It was getting late and the convention was to begin in the morning, so it was thought good not to take time for any gathering. For most of us it was to bed about 2 a.m. and up at 6 to attend the first big assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in the great city of Rome.
There is an old adage that says all roads lead to Rome, and as the day progressed this certainly seemed true, because representatives came from 14 nations outside of Italy and Trieste: Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Eire, Norway, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Gold Coast, and the United States. There were hundreds of them. From England more than 250 came; from Denmark, more than 100; from Switzerland and Germany, upward of 70. Good numbers came from most of the other countries. Trains had to be met, guides had to show these non-Italian-speaking persons where to go; but everybody seemed to get along very well, found accommodations, attended the assembly, and it was not long before they knew which bus or tram to take to get to the fairgrounds called Fiera Campionaria.
The Italian publishers of the Kingdom and the missionaries had worked for days in preparing the grounds and hall for this assembly. The building used was an L-shaped exhibition hall. Communists had been in there sometime before and had left things in a miserable mess. The floors were dirty and the walls were smeared with political slogans. The man from whom the brothers rented the grounds and building said he certainly could not afford to fix things up for the three-day convention. He told Jehovah’s witnesses they could go ahead and do what they wanted to to make the place presentable. When the proprietor came on the grounds the day before the assembly began he was amazed to see that all the walls of the building we were going to use had been painted and the grounds cleaned up. Everything had been put in order and a beautiful platform was erected at the angle of the “L”. Fluorescent lights were installed. The backdrop of the stage was made of green laurel woven into lattice work and dotted with pink and red carnations. It looked like a new building now and not like a scene of wreckage and upheaval left behind by the Communists. There in Italian was the year’s text. At one end of the building booths for rooming, information and service were set up; at the other end, the cafeteria and bookroom were set up.
The convention to be held in Rome in 1951 was certainly different from the little gathering there in 1947, when I previously visited the city. Then we could be gathered in a small hotel room and the people could be counted on one’s fingers. But now as nine o’clock arrived on December 7 and the brothers were finding their seats while songs brought them to order there were 1,300 in assembly. The audience continued to grow until on Sunday evening the assembly reached a peak of 1,731 attending. They braved heavy downpours of rain and sat with coats on in the unheated building, rejoicing as they sang and took in lifegiving knowledge from God’s Word.
The program was arranged for three days with discourses starting in the morning at 9 and continuing all day until about 9 in the evening, with time out at noon for lunch and at five o’clock for the evening meal. It was believed best to devote these three days to attending meetings and aiding the newly interested Italian brothers in gaining accurate knowledge of the truth. There was no wide publicity given to the public lecture on “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” However, all of the subscribers for The Watchtower and the interested persons in Rome were notified of the assembly and specially requested to attend the public meeting. The attendance figures showed that they did come.
The work of Jehovah’s witnesses is really just getting started in Italy. In 1947 the Society was able to send two missionaries into the country, and they had an average of 152 publishers that year. Now there are 38 graduates from Gilead in the country working in various cities, and during 1951 there was an average of 1,532 ministers of the gospel in Italy, with a peak during the year of 1,739. Five years ago the publishers spent 22,000 hours preaching the gospel. During 1951 they spent 231,000 hours. So the gospel of the Kingdom is being preached in Italy, but there is still much work to be done. We know that the greatest good can be accomplished by going from door to door, arranging back-calls and carrying on Bible studies. In this way the other sheep of the Lord can be found and fed. To advertise public meetings or do street witnessing with the magazines would cause too much disturbance at the moment in this land where there is considerable conflict between the Catholic Hierarchy and the communistic organizations. Freedom of speech, while constitutionally approved, is not altogether an actuality. There are too many old laws in Italy that have never been revoked that the priests can urge the police to put into operation to stop public assemblies. But one may have private assemblies and he may study with people in their homes. So that is what Jehovah’s witnesses are doing in Italy, with excellent results. The convention was a private assembly and not announced, and therefore no special police permission was required, although the police were notified of the gathering. Everything was most orderly and the brothers were richly blessed by things brought to their attention.
One of the speakers pointed out the great need for the Bible in Italy and how those who had already come to the truth must keep up with present truth. They must appreciate what the Lord provides through his organization and study diligently. He said we must use the information we have by preaching from house to house and not merely here and there at scattered times as some do. The brother illustrated this by the way we take in nourishment. We do most of our important eating at regular mealtimes, pasta asciutta (spaghetti) being the main dish. But if we wish and have the opportunity we sometimes have a snack of castagne (roasted chestnuts), which we can obtain along the streets. Do we eat chestnuts all the time? No! So we see it is necessary to do more house-to-house preaching to feed ourselves properly and feed the other sheep. We must be regular in our preaching and in our studying.
We must always remember that we are not looking for numbers in our organization, but those who do come to the organization must become mature. This we can accomplish through patience. A brother gave an experience in connection with patience. Sometimes we are too anxious and we want to hurry people into the truth. One brother on his first back-call asked the person of good will, “Do you want to study the Bible with me?” The answer was “Yes”. The brother came forward immediately with this question: “Will you come to meetings with me?” And the answer was “Yes”. The brother was not patient, so he asked this newly interested person before he ever had studied anything with the brother, “Will you go out in the service with me?” The speaker pointed out that he should have had a little patience before asking the second and third questions. This was not to say that years should pass before people are asked the second and third questions, for we know all true Christians should come to the point of preaching the good news as Jesus Christ did, but they should have some knowledge of the truth first. After several Bible studies they will know something to talk to others about. All this was said in the way of teaching the brothers to become mature and use good judgment.
Another gave an experience to show we should not suffocate the persons of good will by staying too late at night. Give them what they need through the regular studies and allow them to digest it. Then let them get hungry for more the next time you call. It is important that the people retain what they are taught.
Another point was that we do not have to know all of the Bible to preach the gospel. One sister had said she was not capable of making back-calls and conducting Bible studies because she might meet a professor. The question was asked of many brothers, “How many professors have you met in your preaching activities so far?” The answer was “None”. When one comes to a knowledge of the truth and of the Kingdom he can always tell what he knows about the Bible to those he meets. The peasant class of people can always help their fellow men and can study with them. And as far as the Bible is concerned, many educated persons know little of the Bible’s contents, and Jehovah’s witnesses can teach them too.
Good instruction was given concerning children and their proper care. The matter of maturity was stressed. Getting along together in congregational life was urged. Proper morals and respectable living were pointed out to be necessities in God’s theocratic organization. The standards acceptable by Catholic leaders in Italy for members of their church are not the same as God’s. God cannot lower his standards to accommodate different nationalities. The cleanliness of the Lord’s organization was seen by all and greatly appreciated. Getting counsel and instruction from God’s sixty-six letters to all of us is our greatest help. Through these letters we can find the way to life eternal and we can learn properly how to live now and preach the good news, preparing ourselves for the new world society.
The Italian brothers and all those attending were greatly encouraged by the good things brought out from God’s Word, and so as to help the English-speaking and German-speaking conventioners some special sessions were arranged and summaries of the talks and experiences were given to them in their own language. The Danish group also held a meeting of this kind.
The majority of the graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead who are now working in Italy were on the program. Most of them did not know anything of the Italian language before they went to Italy and the visitors were amazed with the fluency they already possessed and how they seemed to feel right at home with the Italian tongue. The missionaries have done excellent work in their various assignments. Three years ago there was just one good-will family in the city of Naples. Some missionaries and Italian pioneers have worked it for a while. Good seed has been planted and an organization developed. Now there are 30 regular publishers in Naples, with a peak of 40. This company was conducting 29 home Bible studies in the month of November. The company in Rome had increased from 6 to 38. Like increases have been brought about in Trieste, Milan, Turin, Como, Bologna, Florence, Palermo and many other cities throughout Italy. The real increase in Italy will come through the work of the Italian brothers themselves, so the more of these that come forth having an accurate knowledge of the truth and appreciating their privileges of service, the better it will be for the witness work in Italy. The missionaries help them to know how to do the work and to become mature publishers, but they must bear the burden of most of the work among the millions of people in Italy. Now there are 43 pioneers in full-time service in Italy, along with the missionaries. There are 97 companies of Jehovah’s witnesses organized into six circuits. The circuit servants follow up all interest in their circuits. Many have to travel a great distance to get in touch with Watchtower subscribers or a person who recently obtained literature from the office. Circuit servants usually spend the day with such people, conducting studies with them and showing them in detail how the work of the Lord is being carried on, inviting newly interested persons to engage in field service and many times leaving booklets and other publications with them for distribution. A careful check is kept on every individual by the office and by the circuit servants, and new companies now are springing up all over Italy. They try not to neglect any of the interest.
It seems what all Italy needs is more planting and watering, and Jehovah God will bring forth the increase. The increase is great already, as seen in the large number of publishers who have taken up the work in the past few years and in the fact that 94 were baptized at the Rome assembly, but surely that is just the beginning. For centuries Italy has been steeped in false religion, and the majority of the people of the land are fed up with all of the evil practices, the pomp and glory of men and the selfishness and favoritism shown to the wealthy class. The priests have been a burden on the backs of the people, and this country, like the rest of the world, is sick of false religion. It is truly the tyranny of the religious-political leaders that has brought about a condition in Italy where millions from the Catholic faith have turned to communism. In this condition is seen proof that Catholicism is not the solution to the problem of overcoming godless communism, but rather it has been the cause of much of it throughout the earth. It is indeed comforting to know that Jehovah God is now doing something to help the oppressed peoples by building a new world of righteousness. In the years before Jehovah displays his anger against the evil system of things now dominating the earth, many more persons of good will are sure to take their stand on the side of God’s kingdom.
The people must break away from the attitude of glorying in the past and they must look to the future, to the new world which Jehovah is creating now. Rome is a city of relics and crumbled-down old buildings, like the Colosseum and Nero’s palace, as well as arches of triumph, the Forum, and the catacombs. These things are interesting for tourists and the Italians to see, and so are the ancient things of the Vatican, but the people should not be blinded to the future by always gazing into the past, nor should they overlook the realities of the wickedness of this present system of things by pointing to the evils and persecutions of Christians in the past, or the conquests that were carried on in Italy or by the Romans. We are living in the same old world under Satan that Paul spoke about in 2 Corinthians 4:4. Rome and all the world are ruled by the same invisible god, the Devil, as when Paul visited there nineteen centuries ago. Rome has no glory to be proud of over any other city of the world. It can boast in its past conquest and its gains in religious domination of men, as well as past and present persecution of true Christians, its inquisitions and its corruptness. Judging by God’s Word, its past is no glory and its present system of things is worthy of destruction in God’s sight.
Jehovah has the only message of comfort for the people. It is in his Word. That holds hope for lovers of righteousness. Jehovah’s witnesses have the privilege of declaring the good news from God’s Word in the face of all kinds of opposition, and Jehovah receives the credit for keeping the way open that the message may be heard and for giving the great increases in these last days of Satan’s rule.
The “Clean Worship” assembly in Rome brought joy to the hearts of many. All who attended were happy to have been there. Others throughout the earth rejoiced to know an assembly for clean worship was held in this stronghold of fusion religion. Dozens of cablegrams poured in from all parts of the world and all in attendance were grateful to the Lord that the assembly could be held without interference in this ancient city that has oppressed so many and kept the people of many nations in darkness concerning God’s purposes expressed in the Bible. Only by Jehovah’s power could such be possible, and it is Jehovah that sees to it that the light from his Word will shine forth in these last days and that false religion will be exposed by it. The Italian publishers of God’s kingdom show determination and zeal, and with Jehovah’s help they are certain to push forward the expansion of theocratic organization greatly before the end of Satan’s system of things comes. It was a pleasure to see them and worship Jehovah with them.