Entry 14 / Facing the Council of Trent

Pastor Pippo Rizza

Trento, Italy

Where I stand, the Christian books were collected and set on fire.

Called the “Counter Reformation,” between 1545 and 1563, twenty five councils of the Church of Rome met here in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. This city became the “line drawn in the sand.” Protestantism might have come this far but it would come no farther.

Standing there in the Piazza, staring at the very church where this all took place, I felt the hair raise up on the back of my neck. I sensed the spirit of defiance come upon me. I felt similar to the time friends of mine took me from Napoli to the coast where at the port of Pozzuoli there stood a monument to St. Paul. He had been brought there in chains from Syracuse to eventually be beheaded in Rome. Indignation is the word that describes my feelings on both occasions.

Pippo and Emille

On Wednesday morning Emile drove me to meet Pastor Pippo, a Facebook friend that I had never spoken to but have come to admire at a distance. He is the leader of a growing evangelical church of some one-hundred people.

This is the place

This is a city with a history. To be a Protestant here has for me  added value and meaning. I love to think that God saves a man and sends him here to face down a giant. Pippo is a university Economics and Finance professor and as with most pastors here, they must be bi-vocational or they will soon be starved out.

We caught sight of him coming across the Piazza and after a quick greeting sat down and had a coffee. Following this, Pippo took us on a historical tour, inside the Duomo, through the streets of  almost Austrian architecture decorated with motifs and frescoes coming from as far back as the Renaissance. 

"The Devil's House"

Finally, when lunch time rolled around I was taken to an historical pizzeria. I have taken a photograph to show you what this was like. You will notice the number “408.” Let me explain that was our table number and it is my guess that we were only seated two-thirds of the way into the restaurant. It was enormous.

On the right you will see a doorway closed to the public. This was the meeting of the lutheran Church and now called the “House of the Devil” by the Catholic Church. Pippo had this novel idea to open it up for a meeting place but was promptly told.”No” by the city Fathers. There is always a protectionist and sympathetic City Hall which makes sure that it is made as difficult as possible (actually, IMPOSSIBLE)  for the Evangelical which is classified as an undisreable Cult (“sect” in Italy) by the Roman church.  By contrast, you would be stunned to see how the Bishop lives in Versaille styled opulence.

We left the restaurant, found our car and promised to stay connected. Emile drove me off to Parma where we met ACCI members, Francesco and Aldo two and one-half hours later.

Entry 13 / Sometimes I wish I were rich

Let’s say I was “filthy rich” as my mother used to call it. I would probably help God out… a lot…. too much.

Imra misled me. She said, “It’s only a short walk, about a kilometer.” That doesn’t sound like a lot if one is not hauling an additional forty pounds beyond their recommended body weight. It really isn’t far as long as it is not all straight uphill and one does not have a cold on the verge of  pneumonia. Being trained by my wife in the fine art of walking, I said, Sure, let’s do it!” What visitor wants to look like they are not interested in such things as mushrooms, wild remedies and winding nature trails through spruce and pine. Oh yes, and a shrine to Mary in an occasional tree.

And besides, Imra had spent time explaining how the Lord had laid this ministry and this building on their hearts. How much something like this, a Christian retreat center was needed in this part of the world – so I enthusiastically went along with the dream even though I know that, unless a miracle should happen, this should be impossible to expect.

This is an old Catholic facility with a chapel, modern commercial kitchen and  twenty-two, fully furnished rooms on two floors. “What if we could get this up and running and make it a gathering place for people from all over the region, and other parts of the world as well? This could be used as a pastoral training center! What if we could host retreats, have places for missionaries and pastors’ to ripose, imagine prayer conferences or youth groups coming here? People from all over? People from different kinds of churches and cultures? We could even offer rooms to bicyclists who come by and it wouldn’t matter if they were Christians or not. People from America could come and visit here. After all it is only a short distance from Bavaria, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Lake Garda, Venice!”

An entrepreneur, Emile wasn’t along with us but when he came back he explained that he had already put together a business plan. He asked me what I thought I might pay for such a grand facility and I had no idea. He convinced me that attempting to do this at all, even acquiring the land would be nigh to impossible. It would be well over a million Euro (1,300,000 US dollars) while this can be bought for 250,000 Euro ($300,000.) just as it is. I haven’t told Jeanne yet but I donated the first 100,000 dollars.

Of course, I can’t do that but maybe if I could, I might. This is the point and we all agree on it. If this something in the mind of God, how does He manage to make it happen? Where will such “a table in the wilderness” come from? 

Is there anyone out there that would like to invest in a miracle?   

Entry 12 / The Dilles, Montevelo

On the way up

One thousand feet above the city of Rovereto and on the edge of the Alps lives the Belgian family, the Dilles’.

There are seven of them altogether, Emile, Imra, four girls and one little boy. When Emile and Imra were just children themselves, before they new one another at all, before they were Christians, they knew that they would leave Belgium and live in Italy.

Eight years ago they took their leave and bought a house they originally thought would make a summer cottage but through a variety of circumstances they now live here and invite others to come and stay with them, especially weary missionaries and Christians that need a break.

The view from here

I owe ACCI leader Ann Hinrichs and her husband Luke for this introduction. Years ago Ann and Luke ventured up this way to meet the daughter and son-in-law of Brazilian – Italian’s, Gerson and Maitie Celeti who now live in Norway and serve a missionary training center there. In the process they were introduced to others in the area which included the Dilles’ and Pastor Pippo Rizzo of Trento (more about him in future blog). Since that time they have made a number of other visits ministering in the Trento church on several occasions. Ann often remarked about the friends she had there and then about a year ago Ann along with Canadian Director, Lauren Carrion took John (Our son-in-law and director of ACCI) and Amy (our daughter) lived in Italy with their boys for about three months went up to visit. The Haley’s also made the acquaintance and came back with a good report. So, even though it is out-of-the-way for me and off the beaten track I decided to make the venture and go up.

la ragazze Dilles'

Truly these are wonderful people. After I was picked up at the train station by Emile I was driven up their home in the forest. Even though I was not feeling well with a cold we lingered around the table sharing our journeys and over tea, fresh bread, cheese, ham and prosciutto. It always continues to amaze me that one can encounter complete strangers and feel as though you have known them forever. This wonder is compounded when you think these are folks are twenty years younger and from a completely different part of the world but while hearing their stories I was surprised how similar they are to the two of us (Jeanne and I). In fact, I was thought how similar Imra is to Jeanne when she was the same age and we lived on the farm near North Augusta, Ontario. There is (if you watch for it) a thread of universality in the worldwide body of Christ.

My little apartment

I spent the night and the next day while Emile hauled the two girls down the mountain to their school, Imra and I took a walk to their dream some kilometer away. I’ll share this vision in the next blog entry.

Entry 9 / Ljubljana to Verona, Italy

A fashion shoot, apparently

 

My destination for today is Verona and just happens to be one of my all time favorite cities in Italy. I will arrive early enough to catch the evening light take some pictures, get a hotel (turned out to be Valverde a three star and not great), stay over and in the morning go on to Trento where I will meet the Dilles’ and on the next day Pastor Pippo Rizzo. 

My original plan was to stop over in two places. I first wanted to see Caleb and Linda Klontz ACCI missionaries in Trieste but they were in America on furlough. Then I thought, “Oh, well, I’ll go on to Venice and meet Piero Pugiotta for lunch,” but he was busy at work. We texted back and forth and made arrangements to perhaps meet in Florence on Tuesday. I hope he will bring along Natasha his wife and Cristiano their little boy. In the meantime I trained along and arrived in Verona. Here are some shots of the city center.