Italy, Adventists, Mark 20 Years
of Religious Freedom
Seventh-day Adventist representatives met with Italy’s prime minister and officials March 6 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the agreement between the government and the Adventist Church. Once signed into law, it legalized relations between the church and the Italian state without compromising the church’s identity or independence.
CELEBRATING FREEDOM:Adventist religious liberty leader John Graz and president of the Adventist Church in Italy, Daniele Benini, flank Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, center. The three joined other government and church officials at a meeting this month to observe two decades of full religious freedom in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.“We wish to thank the authorities of our country for the freedom we enjoy,” said Daniele Benini, president of the Adventist Church in Italy. In 1988 Adventists were among the first Protestant denominations to sign the agreement in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Dora Bognandi, director of the church’s department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) in Italy, said the agreement made full provision for seventh-day Sabbathkeepers in Italy. It also officially recognized Adventist ministers and ceremonies officiated by them, allowed Adventist young people to choose community service over compulsory military service, and established Adventist chaplaincy posts in the country’s hospitals and prisons. Following the agreement, the Adventist Church was allowed to advertise, as well as collect contributions.
“Italy is an incredible example of religious freedom,” said world church PARL director John Graz, who joined the Adventist delegation for the meeting. “In a country that is home to the Vatican, not only are we recognized, but we are welcomed and well integrated. We have a voice in the public square and we are totally protected by the state.” Graz told the officials that he holds up Italy as a model of religious liberty during his travels to promote freedom of belief.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi, along with president of the senate, Franco Marini, and former republic president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, said personal religious freedom is vital in a nation made up of many cultures and belief systems. Prodi, whose political career is ending, said he would continue to work for religious liberty.
Adventism first came to Italy in 1864. Today, nearly 8,500 Adventists worship in the country of nearly 60 million. “Despite our small numbers, almost everyone in Italy knows about the Adventist Church,” Graz said.
—Adventist News Network Staff