E-book: Alfredo Del Rosso (Part 3)

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by Howard Culbertson

Material for this biography was gathered in Italy in the late 1970's from letters, books, magazine articles and interviews with many of the principal characters including several missionaries to Italy, Alfredo Del Rosso himself (1890-1985) and members of his family. Many of those interviewed in the research have since died.

3. Out under the stars


     Alfredo Del Rosso faced a decision not unlike that faced by many of the holiness preachers in the U.S.A. a couple of decades earlier. As some of those American preachers found themselves forced out of existing churches because of their preaching of entire sanctification, they talked about being forced to "go out under the stars." It was a reference to the fact that they were no longer preaching to established congregations meeting in church buildings.
     In Italy, Alfredo Del Rosso found himself in a similar situation. He could stay in the Civitavecchia Baptist church and thus be assured of housing for his family, a regular income, and a place to fulfill his call to ministry. But to do so he would have change the way he explained his own religious experience as well as the theological content of his preaching about the Christian life.
     Late one night Del Rosso and his wife were wrestling with the decision facing them. Suddenly, their seven-year-old son Paolo -- whom they supposed was asleep in the corner of the room -- sat up in his bed. "Pick up the book," he said pointing to a Bible, "and read page 242." Then he lay back down fast asleep.
     Startled, they took the Bible off the shelf and opened it. The page Paolo had indicated was the 18th chapter of Acts. They began to read. Verse 9 said: "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.'" It seemed clear to Alfredo and Niny that the Lord had spoken through their small son. So Alfredo Del Rosso resigned as pastor of the Civitavecchia Baptist Church, telling his parishioners, "Even if I have to stay here alone in this city preaching sanctification by faith, I'll do it, confident of certain victory."
     He started to make arrangements to send his wife and kids north to Florence to live with relatives but Niny protested, "No, we're in this thing together."
     Word of what was happening to the Del Rossos reached railroad conductor Pio Boccini. He said, "I heard that Del Rosso was being sent out of the church because he preached against a worldly life and it truly grieved my heart. How come? Why are they putting such a good man out of the church? I did not know what to do."
     There were others as equally disturbed as Pio Boccini. Thus when Del Rosso resigned as pastor, he did not leave the Civitavecchia church alone. After he turned in his resignation, fifty members of the congregation said they were leaving with him. The change wasn't an abrupt one. It was nearly a month before the Del Rossos could move out of the parsonage. Because the church was a month behind on Del Rosso's salary, he didn't have any funds to rent a house for his wife, their 1-year-old son and new-born baby girl. Finally, however, he did get his last month's paycheck and moved his family out of their new parsonage into a tiny two-room apartment.
     In that little apartment Del Rosso began holding prayer meetings and Bible studies for the people who had left the Baptist church with them. To help provide for the Del Rosso family, these people began bringing in food poundings (a very Nazarene-style custom even if they weren't yet Nazarenes!)
     Strangely, the split in the Civitavecchia church did not create a lot of bitterness nor lingering negative feelings. While the Baptists were convinced that Del Rosso needed to go because of the theology he espoused about Christian life and experience, years later he would be quite fondly remembered even by those members who remained Baptist. Toward the end of his life, his ministry in Civitavecchia would be remembered by Italian Baptist Union officials as one of the spiritual high points of that congregation. And in fact, following the second World War (almost twenty years after he had left the Civitavecchia church) the Baptist Union offered Alfredo Del Rosso another pastorate.
     In spite of the fact that the Del Rossos had some families who left the church in solidarity with them, the first months after Alfredo's resignation were difficult financially. Even before the split, the Civitavecchia church was not self-supporting. Then, one day a letter postmarked in Denmark arrived at the Del Rosso house. Inside the envelope were 50 Danish Krone (worth about $250 which was a considerable sum at the time) and a letter from a lady who had met Del Rosso when he was pastoring in Rome. She had felt impressed to write him and to send some money -- the first gift of many that she would send across the years. In the letter she said, "If you ever need help, please do not hesitate to call on me. Let me know if you ever need anything."
     In the correspondence that developed, Alfredo explained his current situation and what had happened to bring it about. The lady was a member of the Apostolic Church, a denomination with roots in a revival in Galles (Great Britain) in 1904-05. Since it appeared to her that Del Rosso was quite close theologically to her denomination, she put him in contact with the church's top leadership in England.
     At that point in time, the Apostolic Church was open to entering Italy. So that same year, 1927, a delegation of British pastors came to Italy to assess the situation and to talk with Del Rosso. It seemed to Del Rosso that this was the closest denomination doctrinally to what he believed. Even though he was puzzled by a few things they said, their warm assurances convinced him and he joined up with them.
     With Apostolic Church backing, Alfredo Del Rosso began services at Grossetto, a city about 75 miles north of Civitavecchia. While he was pastoring the Civitavecchia Baptist congregation, he had gone up there once a week and had established a small Baptist congregation. Now, he went to work to plant a second church in that city, this time an Apostolic one. Real revival broke out. There, Pio Boccini would be sanctified wholly in 1929. Del Rosso also began regular meetings in Dr. Carlo Padeletti's house in Montalcino (a village south of Siena where Del Rosso had grown up). At the meetings in Montalcino, which continued until the late 1950s under Nazarene sponsorship, two teenagers who worked for the Padeletti family -- Ado Lagomarsino and his future wife Olga -- were converted. Fifteen years later Ado and Olga Lagomarsino would be the backbone of a new group in Florence.
     It wasn't long, however, before Del Rosso began to suspect that he wasn't quite as close doctrinally to the Apostolic Church as he had originally thought. Denominational leaders began insisting that Del Rosso's ministry include a strong emphasis on what they affirmed were two valid gifts of the Spirit: directly-revealed prophecy and glossolalia (speaking in unknown tongues). Sanctification -- a key word for Del Rosso -- was for them an experience separate from the baptism with the Holy Spirit. This did not exactly square with what Del Rosso believed to be a scripturally balanced doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit.
     At the end of three years, an Englishman named Evans traveled to Italy to straighten out this Italian preacher. Evans was one of the Apostolic Church's recognized "prophets" and he told Del Rosso he had a direct word from the Lord for him. In the Apostolic Church it was strictly forbidden to challenge the word of a church prophet, but Del Rosso broke that rule. And so out "under the stars" again he went. Not long afterward, Del Rosso's friend Pio Boccini followed him out of the Apostolic Church. Pio too felt the tongues-speaking practices of that particular denomination was unscriptural.
     When Del Rosso split with the Baptists doctrinally, there wasn't a rupture of friendship. There wasn't any such rupture this time either with Del Rosso being remembered as "a strong preacher with a clear message." At the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Apostolic Church in Italy, Alfredo Del Rosso was invited to Grossetto to be one of the featured speakers.
     Del Rosso's family was growing in these years. Noemi, the second daughter, had been born in 1928. Then Lea was born in 1930 and a year later came Maria. Even with these five children to support, Del Rosso saw an independent ministry as the only possibility for him. So he began working under the title of "Independent Holiness Mission." Then a year after Maria's birth, the future suddenly darkened. Del Rosso contracted pneumonia. It was a disease that at that time killed one in every three people that contracted it. But Del Rosso was miraculously healed.
     By this time Fascism had raised its ugly head in Italy and then grabbed power. That would affect Del Rosso's ministry. Benito Mussolini, a former newspaper editor who had come to power in Italy in 1922, slowly, but surely, began turning the country into his own personal domain. In February of 1929 this dictator (who had once declared himself an atheist) bought the Roman Catholic church's support through his negotiation and signing of the Lateran treaties. Mussolini agreed to declare the 109 acres of the Vatican an independent country, to make Roman Catholicism the official state religion (with regular financial support), and to introduce compulsory Roman Catholic instruction in the schools. He also gave the church the equivalent of two to three million U.S. dollars as compensation for residential properties seized in the 1870 takeover of Rome by the Italian government. Through this agreement, said an American Roman Catholic journalist, "Mussolini was to do more for the Vatican than any man, any cleric, any Pope, in all history."
     Governmental persecution of the small Protestant minority also began since, as one Italian lawyer wrote, the Protestants seemed to be "infected with the virus of democracy." A 1931 law gave the police the right to break up any religious meeting which had not applied for and received proper permission in advance. In 1934 this persecution was intensified by the government. Eight awful years followed in which all Pentecostal-style groups were ordered suppressed for the "mental and physical health of the race." Pastors were sent to prison or to concentration camps. Believers had to meet secretly in caves, cellars or in private homes behind closed doors and shuttered windows. Del Rosso's groups were classified within the Pentecostal camp. So, they were officially prohibited from meeting although he continued to hold services for a time in Civitavecchia, conducting meetings at 5 a.m. in different homes on different mornings to evade the authorities.
     At one point the persecution of Protestants became so oppressive that Del Rosso felt it best to leave the country temporarily. Since the Coppinis -- his friends from Florence -- were in Switzerland, he went there. Almost immediately he met up with some Swiss Pentecostals who, although not agreeing 100 percent doctrinally with Del Rosso, began to support him financially -- a support that would continue up until World War II. As Del Rosso's fame began to spread, he started to travel extensively throughout northern Europe as a revival campaign speaker.
     These campaigns would include two or three services a day and lasted from one to two weeks. They were fully evangelistic with altar calls inviting people to seek salvation, sanctification and healing. In approximately seven years of this type of ministry Del Rosso said he saw thousands of people praying at the altar. As he described them to friends, he already sounded very Nazarene for he talked of the number of seekers at the altar, saying "some of them for the first time." His preaching trips took him to the major cities of Switzerland, to Paris, to London, to Bristol in England and into Wales. He spoke in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. His preaching was done in four languages: English, Italian, French and German.
     This wasn't preaching done through an interpreter like many American evangelists do today. His messages were merely brief memorized sermonettes given in languages Del Rosso didn't really know. It was real preaching in those languages. All the while, however, Del Rosso said, "The vision of a holiness work in Italy burned in my heart." He was also honing cross-cultural communication skills that he would use effectively the rest of his life.
     Most of Del Rosso's traveling was done by train. Thieves and robbers were not unheard of during night travel on European trains. So Del Rosso would divide his money up into all of his pockets saying, "Well, if I get robbed, I'll let them have everything in this pocket. But then I'll have three or four pockets left for myself."
     Though no longer a young man (he was now in his forties), Del Rosso was incessantly on the go even when he was back in Italy. One would often find him headed over to Pio Boccini's home in Rome to hold a service or going up to Montalcino to conduct a service in the private chapel of the Padeletti family there. He conducted the wedding of the Lagomarsinos in that Montalcino chapel and in 1935 that young couple moved to Florence where they would be ready, after the war, to help Del Rosso launch the Church of the Nazarene in Italy. At times, the relatives of this seemingly untiring man stood back in awe. Said his nephew in wonderment, "He lives as though there's someone beside him holding him up." His wife, who was having to do everything at home, had a little more down to earth assessment one day when she said to him in exasperation, "All you know how to do is preach!"
     During this period Alfredo Del Rosso came into contact with the Italian branch of the Salvation Army. It had begun work in Italy in the 1880's not long after its birth in England. Since Del Rosso had been heavily influenced by the writings of Salvationists Brengle and Booth, he considered the possibility of joining up with them. But the official in charge of the Italian work said that would be possible only if Del Rosso would leave his family in Civitavecchia and go to England to attend officers' training school. Having already graduated from the Waldensian Bible School, having satisfied Baptist ordination requirements and having pastored Baptist churches for eight years, having helped get the Apostolic Church started and then worked as an independent evangelist, Del Rosso did not feel that particular sacrifice was necessary for the fulfillment of his call. That -- combined with the Salvation Army's army-like administrative structure and what they were offering to pay a man with five children -- caused him to remain independent.
     War clouds had begun gathering in Europe in October of 1935 with the invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini, an invasion supported by his new ally, the Roman Catholic Church. The following year Mussolini sent some Italian troops to fight on the side of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. On Good Friday of 1939, piqued at Hitler for not having forewarned him about the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, Mussolini seized Albania. Alarmed at the two European dictators' expansionist actions, American president Franklin Roosevelt appealed directly to both of them. Mussolini responded that "a virile people have a right to empire." On September 1, Hitler attacked Poland and World War II was on.
     At first Italy declared its non-belligerency in the Nazi-initiated conflict. But by 1940 Mussolini became afraid that if he stood by and did not get in the war on Germany's side, he would not be in on the cutting up of the victory pie. He told his Fascist Council that by the following September the war in Europe would be finished and that he had need of a few thousand dead to claim a place at the peace table as one of the co-belligerents. Mussolini also had a special hatred for England along with scores he felt Italy needed to settle with France. Seeing a chance to get even with those two countries, in June of 1940 Mussolini declared war on France and England in a public speech from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. Mussolini had made a terrible miscalculation. For, by the "following September," there was no peace table in sight. Mussolini's forces were in rout in North Africa and there were no slices of victory pie being handed out to the Italians.
     As Italy mobilized for what was supposed to be a quick, almost painless victory, the Fascist party approached 50-year-old Reserve Army captain Del Rosso with an offer to join the elite Fascist black-shirt militia. Del Rosso declined the offer, choosing instead to wait to be drafted into the regular army, something which did happen in 1941.
     Del Rosso was given command of a company of soldiers that had the responsibility of guarding the coast of Calabria (the southern tip of Italy's "boot"). As an officer, Del Rosso was ahead of his time in the methods he used in dealing with his men. He treated them as human beings instead of as expendable machines . . . and he acted this way in a dictator's army! The ability Del Rosso had to deal with men did not go unnoticed and before long he was promoted to major.
     With the promotion he was given a short leave to go home and visit relatives. Besides seeing his wife and children in Civitavecchia, he took time to go to Empoli near Florence to see his brother and family. His nephew Raffaello came to the railroad station to pick him up. On their way out of the station, Del Rosso and his nephew passed the Fascist Police Commissioner for the area. Because Del Rosso was wearing a high-ranking army uniform, the commissioner saluted him, but the salute was accomplished with a startled expression.
     That evening the Police Commissioner sent for Raffaello. "Who was that officer with you at the railroad station?" the commissioner asked when Raffaello arrived at his office.
     "That was my uncle, Alfredo Del Rosso."
     "Oh no," groaned the Commissioner, "I closed up that man's evangelical church in Civitavecchia some years ago."
     Fearful that Del Rosso might use his high rank in the military to exact revenge against him, the Police Commissioner sent word to Del Rosso, asking if could find the time to come see him. When Del Rosso arrived in his office, the Commissioner indirectly apologized to Del Rosso for the way he and his group of believers had been treated some years before. What the Commissioner didn't know was that he need not have been nervous at all. Del Rosso had not remembered him.
     Japanese imperial forces attacked U.S. territory at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The U.S. declared war on Japan. Four days later, Germany and Italy issued a joint declaration of war against the United States -- an act that would eventually bring Nazarene young men into the Florence area and into the temporary living quarters of the Del Rosso family.
     With the entry of American forces into the war, Mussolini's dream of a new Roman Empire began collapsing. Under the direction of General Dwight Eisenhower, the 8th English army and the 7th American army invaded Sicily in July of 1943. Due to the pressures of Italian surrenders in May in North Africa, this early July invasion of Sicily and then an Allied air raid on Rome itself on July 19, the Italian King forced Mussolini to resign. Mussolini was arrested on July 25, 1943 and three days later the Fascist Party itself was dissolved.
     About the same point in time, Del Rosso became ill with malaria down in Calabria and was given a furlough to recuperate. As he traveled toward home, he worried about his family. He had heard that allied bombing raids had already begun on Civitavecchia in an effort to destroy the port and railroad lines. When he arrived, their home was still intact, but his family was not there. He made his way up to Florence to inquire from his wife's relatives if they knew anything about his wife and four girls and son Paolo (who was in the army). He found his family living with his wife's sister in her home which was located on the same street as the Florence Baptist Church.
     On September 3 the allied armies crossed the strait of Messina to the mainland of Italy. What was left of the Italian army began to collapse. On September 5 the provisional Italian government signed an armistice with the allies. The following day the American Fifth Army under the direction of General Mark Clark came ashore at Salerno, just south of Naples. In that invasion force was a young communications expert named Bob Shultz, a born-again believer whose path would cross that of Alfredo Del Rosso nearly a year later when his army unit was fighting its way north through Italy.
     Sensing the southern defense perimeter of their "fortress Europe" collapsing, the Nazis rushed reinforcements south to hold off the Allied military forces. In the span of a few short days the Germans had been transformed from the Italians' comrades-in-arms into unfriendly occupation forces. The flow of German forces into Italy meant that almost a year would pass before the Allies would arrive in Florence.
     Some Italian army units went over to the Nazi side (including the one of Del Rosso's son, Paolo). Those Italian forces that found themselves in zones liberated by the allies just disbanded and the soldiers went home. Italian military units still in German-occupied territory which did not voluntarily offer themselves to the Nazis were often shipped up to Germany to work in war munitions factories.
     Del Rosso found himself in that third category of units within German-occupied territory. Because of his linguistic capabilities, Del Rosso was soon picked up by the Nazis to act as an interpreter. His family feared that Del Rosso would eventually be shipped off to Germany. It wasn't too long before he began to have the same fears himself. So one day on the train he simply discarded his army uniform, put on civilian clothes and slipped back into Florence to live with his family. As long as the Germans occupied the area, he was in a great deal of danger. So, Alfredo Del Rosso's presence in Florence was kept a secret. And, in fact, not long after Florence's liberation in August of 1944, Raffaello came over from Empoli to Florence to console the family over the loss of Alfredo. There in Florence he encountered Alfredo Del Rosso himself.
     "The Lord hasn't forgotten about me," Alfredo exulted to his incredulous nephew.
     Word reached the Del Rossos from Civitavecchia that during the fighting in and around that city, their home had been looted and everything stolen. To cap it all off, when the American infantrymen had arrived in the Civitavecchia area, they had used Del Rosso's library books to fuel campfires. The destruction of their home was a crushing blow to Niny. She had taken pride in her home. Over the years, she had nicely and tastefully furnished it. Now, all of that was gone. Niny took it graciously, using the words of Job to explain the situation to her teen-age girls, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." (Job 1:21). In the end, the loss had its good side because the Del Rossos would have no reason to return to Civitavecchia after the battle front passed through Florence.
     In the spring of 1944 the Del Rosso family moved out of Niny's sister's home and went to the mountains near Pistoia northwest of Florence. Not long afterward, their old friends, the Coppinis, offered them the use of a home they owned in Florence on the southern bank of the Arno. So the Del Rossos returned to Florence although they would soon be forced out again when the fighting reached that city in August. During the month that Allied and German forces faced off in Florence the Del Rosso family lived in a barn out in the country. In the long months of the slow German retreat up the peninsula, during the heavy Allied bombardments of Civitavecchia, and during the close fighting in and around Florence, only one Del Rosso family member was injured. Just before the Del Rossos fled to the countryside in August to live in that barn, Noemi was wounded when a grenade exploded in the yard of their home.
     Up until the fighting reached Florence, this historic city had been listed as "open" or "white" by the Nazi High Command. Then, as fighting reached the area, the Germans decided to make a stand against the British Eighth Army right in the middle of Florence. They would use the Arno River as their major line of defense. In spite of pleas by leading citizens and the intervention of the Swiss consul, on August 4, 1944, German demolition experts devastated the center of the city. Of all the historic bridges across the Arno, only Ponte Vecchio was left standing and the streets leading to it for a radius of 200 yards were reduced to a heap of rubble. The electric generating plant, the waterworks and communications systems were destroyed in spite of attempts by the Italian Partisan fighters to prevent damage to important infrastructure facilities.
     The Allies refused to be drawn into heavy combat inside Florence. Eventually their encircling actions plus the efforts of Partisan fighters within the city caused the Germans to withdraw. In those first hours immediately following the city's liberation and before the Allied military command had time to cross the river and take control of the situation, those Italians who had collaborated openly with German occupation forces were executed in the city squares by the Partisans. Because Del Rosso had for a time worked with the Germans as an interpreter there was fear by some that he might be denounced as a "traitor." But he wasn't.
     Three weeks of military confrontation in Florence had killed 90,000 farm animals, destroyed 150,000 olive trees and decimated an estimated 2 million grape vines and 50,000 fruit trees in the area. So, by necessity, the military occupation authorities put the populace on very strict food rationing. One day Del Rosso was making his way across one of the makeshift "Bailey" bridges the military had erected across the Arno river. As he walked along Del Rosso fell into conversation with an old man who was also crossing the river. The old man began to grumble about the tiny ration of bread he was allowed.
     Del Rosso listened to him, then moved in close and slipped a part of his own bread ration into the man's pocket. Then he said, "You know, the Lord cares about you. Why, just look in your pocket. The Lord has given you something extra." And he rushed on, leaving the man open-mouthed.
     Such ready and joyous sharing of what little they had became a hallmark of the Del Rosso family during Italy's slow recovery from the ravages of war. And the Del Rosso family itself? How did they eat? Well, stretching food is not a new problem for the Lord. Remember the widow's container of oil? Remember the loaves and fishes?
     After the Germans withdrew from the Florence area Noemi was taken to a first aid center set up by the Salvation Army to check on injuries caused by an exploding grenade. There, Alfredo discovered that the Salvation Army was starting to hold some open-air meetings. Del Rosso went to some of those meetings and there met an Englishman charged with re-organizing the work of the Salvation Army in newly-liberated Florence. Since Alfredo knew the city quite well, he volunteered to help the man get back in contact with families who had been part of the Salvation Army's ministry prior to the war.
     As Del Rosso looked back on this meeting later he said, "The Lord was guiding in everything toward my introduction to the Church of the Nazarene, an introduction which would mean the beginning of the work of holiness in the city of Florence and the mission of the Church of the Nazarene in Italy."
     Because Florence had been selected as a rest and recreation area for soldiers of the Allied armies, the Salvation Army decided to open a canteen there. The military authorities offered them use of a building which would eventually house the Florence central post office. The Salvation Army leadership was impressed with this multi-lingual evangelist named Del Rosso. They asked him to become the manager of this canteen. He agreed, and it quickly became an activity for the whole family -- father, mother, and four teen-age daughters (their son Paolo wound up for a while in a prisoner of war camp).
     Looking back on events as they unfolded, it seems quite clear the hand of the Lord was guiding the life of the Del Rossos even in the small details. As he wrote about these experiences years later, he would say, "In that canteen I had the opportunity of knowing some English Christians, who soon spoke of me and of my family to their American companions-in-arms. They were Christians too and were seeking a Christian home for a meeting place for their evening hours after duty."
     It would be in these home meetings that Del Rosso would have the unexpected joy of hearing testimonies from American young men that said they were saved and sanctified wholly. . . . [ continue reading ]

  Page:   << Prev  |   1: Introduction  |   2: If this  be Pentecostalism  |   3: Out under the stars  |   4: The Nazarenes have landed and the situation is well in hand  |   5: Superintendent Del Rosso  |   6: Retirement? Not quite   |    7: Retirement? Finally  |   Next >> 


The Nazarenes have landed and the situation is well in hand

Next chapterSome special young men happened into the Del Rosso home and the course of this 55-year old holiness preacher's life was altered somewhat. Del Rosso recounted what happened: "One evening, among the military men that testified of their faith, there was a glowing testimony of a young American soldier from the state of Indiana. He spoke of his experience of salvation and sanctification with such conviction." . . . [ read more ]

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