In 1938, at the age of 17, Alfredo joined the Italian army to fight for Mussolini’s fascist state. Alfredo tells his story:
I call myself Alfredo. I live with my wife, Annamaria, in the central Italian city of Terni. Terni is a steel manufactur¬ing city, and is predominently communist. During World War II, it was destroyed by Allied bombing.
I grew up under fascism. I knew nothing else. At school, once a week, we boys were made to dress in black shirts and to perform military drills all day with wooden rifles. To be a good Italian was to be a good fascist and Roman Catholic. In 1929, Mussolini signed a pact with the Church which made "The Holy Roman Apostolic Church...the only Church of the State of Italy." Thus, both our political and our religious beliefs were decided for us.
During the war, I served in the Italian army. I felt it was the right thing to do. After basic training, I spent time in Rome, where I met my wife. My unit was eventually sent to Albania. We saw no action against the Allied forces, but we met with some stiff resistance from the local partisans. The spirit of these partisans forced me to think. Why were we fighting this war? Why were we here, upsetting the lives of these people? Later, I would see the same sacrificial resistance by Italian partisans.
I was in Bari on the Adriatic coast when Italy signed the armistice with the Allies. When Italy declared war on Germany, I made my way back to Rome, where I joined the Allied troops under General Mark Clark. I drove a supply truck during the long, bloody battle at Montecasino. I saw many men die. One was a close friend.
It was with the Americans that a spiritual change began in me. The American troops had chaplains of all denominations. One could choose what worship he preferred. And I noticed that all these different chaplains got along well—there was a certain respect. This was totally new to me. I had known nothing but Roman Catholicism. But among these Americans, there was a choice.
Through the Americans I fell in love with America, even though I had never been there. The American soldiers taught me the dignity of the individual. In the Italian army, even on the battle field, the officers ate good meat and vegetables, while the enlisted men drank a weak soup. The enlisted men were literally the slaves of the officers.
In the American army it was so different. Not only did the officers and enlisted men eat at the same mess, but it was first come, first serve! Officers, even high ranking ones, waited in line behind privates and corporals! And I thought I had seen it all when I saw a colonel washing his own car!
So the Americans liberated us not only from the German occupation, but also from our own religious narrow-mindedness and our social caste system. The liberation from the Germans was quick and complete; the other liberation has taken much longer and is still incomplete.
After the war, I studied the history of the United States, particularly the War of Independence. I thought of emigrating to America, but with a wife and two children, financial concerns held us back. I started a business and pursued riches and la dolce vita.
But spiritually there was a void in my life. I was thinking only of pleasure, comfort and security. I had turned my back on the Church—and with it, God—when I was 14. But God had not turned His back on me!
God in His grace began to work in my heart. Suddenly, all the material things I had seemed nothing. Even the earthly relationships so dear to me seemed vain and transitory. It was then that I began to seek a spiritual answer to life. I read the writings of all the major world religions. I found some truth in all of them, but not The Truth. I did not find the peace I sought.
With much reluctance I returned to the study of Christianity. My wife had remained a faithful Roman Catholic, but if Christianity were ever to mean anything to me, I would have to find it for myself.
I considered it logical to begin my study of Christianity with a study of Christ. I bought many books on the life of Christ, but they were by secular authors who treated Jesus as merely a great man, a historical figure, not as God incarnate. Years passed and my spiritual confusion grew worse. At times I thought I would go insane.
Then one day I saw on television a man who talked from the Bible in a way I had never heard before. He explained what the text meant without any appeal to ecclesiastical authority. His message spoke to a profound need in my heart. At the end of the program, he offered a free Bible to everyone who wrote in. Suddenly it hit me that I had been studying the life of Christ from many writers, but I had never read the Bible, the primary source! I sent for the Bible and began reading it. My desire to know Christ grew strong. In my heart, I felt that I did accept Him, but in my mind I had doubts. How could Jesus be both God and man? And how could God be sovereign and man responsible? I was reading the Bible, but I could not understand much of it.
Then, one day, two young men came to my door who said they were from The Bible Today. My wife and I were delighted to see them. They were generous with their time, and they helped me resolve my spiritual problem. They showed me verses of Scripture that presented all aspects of the questions which troubled me, and then they showed me a principle I have found most valuable. The Bible says, "The just shall live by faith." It is by faith that we accept what God says even when we do not understand how it all fits together.
The missionaries gave me another verse which eased my mind—Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."
I saw that my responsibility was simply to accept what God had revealed and apply it to my life, and then rest in the Lord regarding those things which are not revealed.
We prayed together with the missionaries, and as we concluded, I sensed a great joy and peace in my heart that has been there ever since. It was settled. I was free at last in Christ. The world around me had not changed, but I had, and so had my dear wife. We rested in the fact that Jesus had died for all our sins and was now living to give us peace and victory. My mind and heart were at last united...by faith.
God has brought Americans into my life in times of great crisis, and each time they have brought liberation. But the liberation I treasure most is my liberation in Jesus Christ!