E-book: Alfredo Del Rosso (Part 6)

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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, Rev. Del Rosso himself (1890-1985) and members of his family. Several of those interviewed for the book have since died.

6. Retirement? Not quite

     In August of 1960 Rev. and Mrs. Rocco Cerrato arrived from a pastorate in the New York area to serve as short-term missionaries. Cerrato had been asked to go to Italy to enable the now 70-year-old Del Rosso to retire and to bridge the leadership gap until a career-missionary could be sent.
     Rev. Cerrato was of Italian ancestry and the Board of General Superintendents had prevailed on him to accept this assignment even though he felt no call to missionary service. They felt that Cerrato might be able to move into the cultural and linguistic situation more quickly than would someone without an Italian heritage. After wrestling with the decision for several agonizing months, he finally did pray through on going to Italy -- but he committed to only two years with the understanding that at that time he would be replaced by a career missionary.
     Before the arrival of the Cerratos, Del Rosso confided to Elio Milazzo that he could not see himself retiring. He felt the work was too important to flounder while an American (even if he did have Italian blood) attempted to learn the language and to become acculturated. Besides, it was not all that abnormal for someone approaching retirement age to become protective and even possessive of an organization he founded and directed. As a result, the Cerrato family was not greeted with an open-arms welcome and handed the key to the city. However, Cerrato was as strong-willed as Del Rosso and he quickly earned the respect of the elder man.
     About the same time the Cerratos arrived in 1960, Earl Morgan and his family returned to Italy for a short time, but the combination of the two missionaries' personalities just didn't work out. So, in 1961, the Morgans went back to Lebanon. That brief overlap between the two missionary families had, however, given the Cerratos enough time to do some language study and to get a feel of the situation.
     In the fall of 1961, General Superintendent Hardy Powers made a trip to Italy with George Coulter, then the head of the Nazarene Department of World Missions. While Del Rosso had not been ready to turn anything over to Cerrato when Cerrato had arrived a year earlier, he was now convinced that it was the proper thing to do. Meeting in Rome together with Powers, Coulter and a lawyer, Del Rosso and Cerrato worked out a retirement agreement that included procedures for transferring legal authority from the church from Del Rosso to Cerrato. The 10-year-old Nazarene Company was also dissolved and inside of a month the Italian Minister of Internal Affairs had given the Church of the Nazarene legal standing as a recognized denomination. This wasn't just due to the arrival of Cerrato. The obstacles to that recognition had really been cleared away two years earlier when the Assemblies of God triumphed in their long court battle to obtain legal recognition.
     The properties at Florence and Civitavecchia were deeded by the Nazarene Company to the Church of the Nazarene (although this "gift" did create tax problems that took years to resolve!).
     At that time the Italian district was reporting 300 full members in 7 organized churches and preaching points. Apart from Del Rosso and his wife, there were no full-time workers. So, although the naming of a missionary as superintendent was in some respects a step backward in the indigenization of the work, it seemed to be a solution that would actually allow the work to move forward.
     Although the government had granted the church full legal recognition, Italian Nazarene ministers would not obtain eligibility for governmental pension and health insurance programs until 1971. So a "semi-retirement" salary for Alfredo Del Rosso of 120 dollars monthly was established by the church. At its meeting in January of 1962, the Department of World Missions officially placed Del Rosso in a retired relationship. Alfredo and Niny moved to Civitavecchia to pastor the congregation there with the understanding that house and utilities would be provided in addition to the pension.
     While in Italy, Dr. Powers toured several of the churches again. It was during this series of special services that a famous translation -- or mistranslation -- occurred of one of Dr. Powers' sermons on tithing and self-support. Rocco Cerrato, who was present, said that parts of Powers' sermon on tithing became in Del Rosso's translation a sermon on "God is love." As the story began spreading among Nazarene leaders, the impression was given that Del Rosso didn't believe in tithing and had taken it upon himself to protect the Italian church from the message. Intentional or not on the part of Del Rosso, the story unfortunately became the most famous thing known about Del Rosso in some Nazarene circles and colored Nazarene leaders' view of him.
     In the light of what I know about Del Rosso plus having heard a lot of translating goofs (and having made some myself), it's most likely that where Del Rosso's translating broke down, it was purely unintentional. Del Rosso's successor at Civitavecchia and eventually as superintendent, Salvatore Scognamiglio, for instance, would often miss contractions when he was translating American preachers. Scognamiglio would often hear "can't" as "can" and "wouldn't" as "would." He would work hard in his translations trying to things fit with the rest of the sermon. For a few moments things would sound awkward, but he wasn't intentionally trying to mess up the speaker. Sometimes, as a translator, if you lose a speaker's train of thought, rather than stopping the flow of a message, you fill in with something until you can figure out what the speaker is trying to say. I think that's what happened with Del Rosso and Powers.
     On Sunday, December 17, 1961, Cerrato organized a Rev. and Mrs. Del Rosso day in the Florence church. Gifts were presented to them by Cerrato on behalf of the General Church. Words of greeting from the Nazarene General Board were brought by Mark Moore who happened to be present for the occasion. The retirement celebration marked the end of 15 years of active pastoral ministry in the city of Florence on the part of Alfredo and Niny Del Rosso. Now they were moving to Civitavecchia, and although supposedly retired, would spend the next eight years pastoring in that city.
     Another missionary couple, the Adragnas from the middle western United States, arrived and were sent to Rome to help Pio Boccini establish a viable congregation there. Sadly, unresolved culture shock forced them home even before they had finished language study. Del Rosso continued to dream and pray for the assignment of another missionary couple who would go to the Naples area.
     Mario Cianchi was sent from the Florence congregation in what would be an unsuccessful attempt to plant a church in the Venice region at a town named Vicenza. There were no funds available for Mario's full-time support, so he found a job to support himself while he worked to start the new group. An independent congregation in Sarzana where Luigi Morano was pastor merged with the Church of the Nazarene. That congregation soon helped give birth to another group in nearby La Spezia where some of Angelo Cereda's converts from Sicily had moved to find work. Although Fritz Liechti was without Bible school training, he accepted an invitation to come down from Switzerland to help pastor the Florence congregation.
     Cerrato became good friends with Jerry Johnson, the superintendent of the new work in Germany (the district was officially called Middle Europe since it had the responsibility for planting churches not only in Germany but also in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland). It wasn't long before conversations between the two Americans turned to a mutual problem -- training national pastors. Since the departure of the Morgans, Italy had been without any type of ministerial training program. Johnson had started a kind of Bible school in the church at Frankfurt, but was not totally satisfied. Cerrato and Johnson began to dream about the possibility of launching a school that could serve both districts. It sounded like a good idea to Nazarene General Church leaders too. So, they agreed to take on the project and thus the European Nazarene College was born.
     In 1964 the Cerratos returned to the U.S. They had agreed to go to Italy on a two-year assignment and had overstayed that time by two years. They were anxious to return to a U.S. pastorate. In a debriefing with the Nazarene Department of World Missions, Cerrato recommended moving away from the policy of sending couples of Italian ancestry as unnecessary and even at times counterproductive. The Paul Wires from central Oklahoma had been placed under general appointment by the General Board in January of 1964. When the Cerratos stood firm on their decision to return to the U.S., the Wires were sent to replace them.
     By January of 1965 an old inn on the banks of the Rhine river in Busingen, Germany had been purchased to house the new European Nazarene College. The location -- a German enclave within the borders of Switzerland -- seemed ideal and the inn was easily renovated to serve as the initial building. Alfredo Del Rosso was asked to come and teach in that first term. His subjects were to be the Manual, theology and evangelism.
     Incredibly for a man his age, Alfredo Del Rosso was to continue pastoring Civitavecchia, commuting back and forth every weekend. His daughter Maria and her husband Alberto Parenti who were living in Rome at that time began coming out to help with the church.
     John Nielson had been named as first rector of the college. He recounts some of the reasons why Del Rosso was recruited to help in that first semester: "(1) To help orient Italian students to the multi-national environment; (2) To help interpret English lectures and church services to Italians until some became proficient themselves in the use of English; (3) To relate the college more directly to our Italian work and help tie the two more closely together; (4) To recognize as well as use the strengths and abilities of this church leader in the development of spiritual cohesiveness among the 7 or 8 nationalities; (5) To assist in the translation of materials for curriculum, and promotional work." All of this was expected from a 75-year-old man traveling over 1500 miles round trip by train every weekend to pastor a church.
     Among the Italian students Alfredo Del Rosso was helping in that first semester at the new school was Salvatore Scognamiglio, who went on to become the Italian district superintendent, and Mario Cianchi, who for several years served as district NYI president.
     Says Nielson of Del Rosso's contribution to the school: "The students and staff loved him, responded positively to his spiritual leadership, dynamic instruction in the classroom, and his wholesome friendship. He was most cooperative and supportive in every way."
     It had been a hope of both Cerrato and Johnson that the school could be established on a fully multi-lingual basis. The original dream was that some teaching being done in each student's mother tongue and then English would be used for chapel services and for social occasions. It didn't work out that way. English came to be used exclusively in the classroom as well as on the campus. So here was Del Rosso teaching theology, evangelism and church polity in English to Germans, Italians and other Europeans.
     Del Rosso carried a heavy burden for Italian-speaking people wherever they were. In August of 1965 Del Rosso wrote back to Missionary Superintendent Wire from Switzerland, "In Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, there are Italians who ought to be saved and sanctified, and the Church of the Nazarene had the full message to bring them." It was a plea for the Italian church to raise its sights beyond the borders of Italy. That plea began to be answered in part when, for several years, powerful Radio Montecarlo began beaming a weekly 15-minute broadcast, "L'Ora Nazarena" into all of Europe, reaching as far south as North Africa.
     Del Rosso was asked to come back to the school in the fall of 1965 and teach another short course. His wife's health was deteriorating and at first he refused to leave her to go back to Switzerland. Then, however, he relented and went up for a couple of weeks.
     That fall Alfredo Del Rosso wrote in the Nazarene missions magazine, Other Sheep: "The Church of the Nazarene is in Civitavecchia, the harbor of Rome. The church has something to say in these last days to this ancient, historical city and we are happy to still be a pastor in such a church as this."
     Moving toward the proper organization of the Italian work as a district, Paul Wire put together a preachers' and workers' conference in 1965. It was the second such meeting in the history of the work, the first having been held by Cerrato in 1963. Del Rosso was asked to speak on "The Importance and Necessity of the Altar in our Church Services." Mrs. Del Rosso spoke on the Sunday school.
     In April of 1966, 76-year-old Del Rosso bought a new motorbike for 200 dollars. That same spring he finished the translation of M. E. Redford's book, The Rise of the Church of the Nazarene, which was published in 1968. That summer found him busy working on study questions for the pastoral course of study. Del Rosso was like a one-man Board of Ministerial Studies, making up questions and grading the papers for men who were preparing for ordination. He was working with men like Angelo Cereda, Vicenzo Izzo and Mario Cianchi (who dropped out of the Switzerland school to return to Italy). Those men were all already pastoring and preferred to work toward ordination through a home study type course instead of dropping out of local church ministry for three or four years to go to Bible school.
     In November of 1966, a disastrous flood hit Florence. Because Nazarene church property is in a higher section of the city, it only had a foot of water inside. Other sections of Florence, however, were under as much as 15-20 feet of water and mud.
     Disagreements over the role of American missionary Wire in disaster relief caused Del Rosso's son Paolo and his son-in-law Alberto Parenti to leave the Church of the Nazarene. It hurt Del Rosso for he had wanted to see them both as leaders in the Italian holiness movement. Paolo became a Baptist and Alberto and Maria just dropped out of church completely. Del Rosso wrote Wire a compassionate letter of encouragement, saying the church would go ahead regardless of this particular setback.
     In 1967 plans began to be made for the first Italian district assembly. Thinking about it gave Del Rosso unsettled feelings. Even though Nazarene work in Italy was now nearly 20 years old, Del Rosso was hesitant about the idea of an assembly. In a February letter to Paul Wire he urged him to wait a few more years saying there were still had too few churches and two few preachers to conduct a district assembly. After all, Italy was still a long, long ways from district organizations he'd seen in the U.S. He was afraid holding an assembly in Italy including electing district officers and making decisions on ordaining preachers would "wreck havoc."
     In April, a month before that first assembly, Del Rosso finished translating the entire Manual, a rather major project that never reached the printing shop.
     In May, the assembly about which Del Rosso had been so hesitant came off successfully. Four men that he had personally prepared and examined were ordained by General Superintendent G. B. Williamson. They were: Angelo Cereda from Sicily, Luigi Morano from Sarzana, Vicenzo Izzo who was now pastoring in Naples and Mario Cianchi who had just moved to Florence as assistant pastor of the congregation there. A district preacher's license was issued to Alberto Ricchiardino who would shortly open the work in the Turin area. Del Rosso himself was elected district church school board chairman. John Nielson had come down from Switzerland to represent the Bible college and reported 22 students at the new school, 7 of them from Italy.
     It was an exciting day and a half. In the spirit of that moment Wire set before the district a goal of moving from the present 306 members to 450 members by the following 26th anniversary year (they would reach 402). He also challenged them to reach a goal of 700 members by the General Assembly of 1972.
     The next year, 1968, Del Rosso began to talk about really retiring. He had given 20 years of service to the Church of the Nazarene and neither he nor his wife's health was all that good. But he felt that he just could not afford retire at that point since it would mean the loss of housing and utilities.
     Another missionary couple, the Roy Fullers, arrived just before the Paul Wires went home for a year's furlough that summer. One of the assignments given to the Fullers by Paul Wire before he left was to locate and purchase suitable property in Rome for a church, district office space, and missionary home.
     In the spring of 1969, just before the annual preachers' meeting, Del Rosso was up in Prato near Florence visiting his daughter Maria. Back at the parsonage in Civitavecchia, Niny Del Rosso just seemed to go to sleep while sitting at the table following supper one evening.
     When an old family friend who had dropped in attempted to rouse her, he discovered that she was dead. Rather than calling Del Rosso directly, he contacted Roy Fuller in Florence and asked him to convey the news to Prato. So Roy picked up Mario Cianchi and the two went over to Prato to deliver the message to Del Rosso and his daughter.
      Niny and Alfredo Del Rosso had spent nearly 50 years together and so her death was a blow. Del Rosso carried on as pastor of the Civitavecchia congregation for the next several months, but, as he says, "I didn't know what an important part of me and my ministry she was until she died." He just couldn't carry the load by himself so his retirement from the pastorate was officially set for August of 1969.
     By that time it had become clear that the Wires, due to family problems, would be unable to return to Italy. So Roy Fuller was named superintendent by the Department of World Missions and he began to make the necessary arrangements for a new pastor at Civitavecchia. His plans included a promising Bible school student who had been converted in the Florence congregation under the leadership of Bob Cerrato and then sanctified under the ministry of Fritz Liechti. . . . [ 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 >> 


Retirement? Finally

Next chapterAlfredo Del Rosso's vision for a holiness work which would reach every Italian never dimmed. In April of 1973 he wrote to Roy Fuller, "May the Lord give us a revival of preaching in the Holy Spirit and Italy will return as it was in the times of the first saints and apostles in Rome.". . . [ read more ]

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