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“Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1, The Living Bible, Paraphrased.
Dear young people, brothers, sisters, and friends,
We are very pleased to invite you to the International Youth Conference and Tour of Italy that will take place after the General Conference World Assembly Public Conference ends in Tortoreto. From October 1 to 9, 2017, we will visit Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice, and the Waldensian valleys and have plenty of opportunity to learn firsthand about church history, especially men and women of faith from different times and walks of life who fulfilled the words of the above Bible verse.
Following are a few highlights of the places that will be visited during the trip.
Rome attracted 12.6 million tourists in 2013. The Vatican Museums had 5.5 million visitors, and the Colosseum was visited by 5.1 million people.
Christians were expected to participate in the rituals and sacrifices offered to the pagan gods and goddesses of the Roman Empire, so many Christians went into hiding and lived in the catacombs to keep from violating their consciences. There are more than sixty catacombs in Rome, made up of hundreds of kilometers of underground passageways that hold thousands of tombs. Currently five of such areas are open to the public.
There were many different types of executions that were carried out in the Colosseum. Christian martyrs were executed as common criminals by crucifixion or "damnatio ad bestia" (thrown to the wild beasts). The vicious, cruel emperors and Romans delighted in even more terrible ways of putting Christians to death. The Emperor Nero introduced twilight executions in which Christians were nailed to crosses and burned alive as torches to light the arena of the Colosseum.
The so-called “Holy Staircase” in Rome is claimed to be that of Pontius Pilate’s mansion; Catholics are told that Christ was made to walk on His knees down this staircase, carrying the cross. In the Catholic Church, plenary indulgences can be obtained by climbing the stairs on one’s knees. On September 2, 1817, Pius VII granted those who ascend the stairs in the prescribed manner an indulgence of nine years for every step. And on February 26, 1908, Pius X granted a plenary indulgence to be obtained whenever the stairs are devoutly ascended after confession and communion.
“Luther was one day devoutly climbing these steps, when suddenly a voice like thunder seemed to say to him: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Romans 1:17. He sprang to his feet and hastened from the place in shame and horror. That text never lost its power upon his soul. From that time he saw more clearly than ever before the fallacy of trusting to human works for salvation, and the necessity of constant faith in the merits of Christ. His eyes had been opened, and were never again to be closed, to the delusions of the papacy. When he turned his face from Rome he had turned away also in heart, and from that time the separation grew wider, until he severed all connection with the papal church.” –E.G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 125.
The city of Florence is a main attraction for international travelers to Italy. It is called the capital of the arts; according to statistics produced by UNESCO, 60 percent of the world's most important works of art are located in Italy, and approximately half of these are in Florence.
Even more interesting for us is the fact that a man lived here who sought to realize the ideal of a Christian city; this was the Italian religious Reformer Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). During the Renaissance, he established the reign of purity and asceticism. Under his guidance, a new constitution was drawn up, establishing a new republic on June 10, 1495. He led out in the abrogation of arbitrary taxation, and it was replaced by a 10 percent tax on all real property. He undertook the immediate relief of the poor and the strict administration of justice. He also instituted a regime of austerity that seemed out of place in the Florence of the High Renaissance. Hymns took the place of common songs, artworks and luxuries were cast aside or burned, and unadorned clothing was worn by the entire population.
Savonarola made bitter enemies both at home and abroad. Pope Alexander VI was eager to rid Florence of this troublesome monk and was also displeased by the public criticism leveled by Savonarola against his scandalous pontificate. Savonarola was arrested and tortured until he confessed many crimes; then he was falsely convicted of heresy and burned at the stake on May 23, 1498, in the “Piazza della Signoria.”
The tower of Pisa took over 800 years to completely finish. Throughout this time, there were two great wars, a civil war, change in religious governments, and a change in the tower’s use. It was "completed" in 1350 (more than 200 years after its construction began), but it has undergone constant addition and modification since then. Europe's most famous monument was the result of a slight miscalculation. Although many factors contributed to the tower’s leaning to one side, the decision of where to build the structure resulted in its original tilt. There are seven bells in the tower, each one sounding a note on the musical major scale. The top of the leaning tower is more than 3.9 meters (about 13 feet) from vertical.
There are 118 islands, 416 bridges, 177 canals, and 127 squares in Venice. The city is more than 1,500 years old and dates back to the mid 400s. By the end of the Thirteenth Century, the maritime empire created by this Italian city-state had become the greatest Mediterranean power since Rome. Venice dominated trade between Europe and Asia. Its influence extended from the city limits, at the western edge of the old Byzantine Empire, to the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Marco Polo, the author of “Il Milione” (The Million), was one of its most famous citizens.
The Waldensian movement arose in Lyon, France, toward the end of the Twelfth Century and spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. These adherents of the Christian faith financed the translation into French of the entire Bible (the well-known Olivetan Bible), joined in the Protestant Reformation, and were violently persecuted. They exerted a strong resistance against the Catholic system in the Alpine valleys of the Piedmont. Today, their church proudly remembers its tragic past and has members in the major towns of Italy as well as in Uruguay and Argentina.
In 2015, after a historic visit to a Waldensian temple in Turin, Pope Francis, in the name of the Roman Catholic Church, asked the Waldensian Christians for forgiveness for the persecution carried out against them. The Pope apologized for the church's "un-Christian and even inhumane positions and actions."
Take advantage of this unique opportunity to meet and fellowship with other believers, make a thrilling experience, and rediscover the roots of your Christian belief. “Give my greetings to all your leaders and to the other believers there. The Christians from Italy who are here with me send you their love. God’s grace be with you all. Good-bye.“ Hebrews 13:24, 25, The Living Bible, Paraphrased.
–Franco Di Franca