Horse-drawn wagons, accompanied by young ladies dressed in pioneer sun bonnets, rolled down the ancient, cobblestone streets of Rome July 13 in what must be one of the most unique parades of the sesquicentennial celebration.
The city of Rome is not accustomed to parades, particularly celebrations commemorating religious events that occurred halfway around the world.In fact, said Leone J. Flosi, president of the Italy Rome Mission, during the nine years he has resided in Rome he has never seen a parade, except for a few marches sponsored by labor unions.
Skeptics said that the idea of sponsoring a parade was impossible. But members in Rome had a dream of celebrating the pioneers' achievements.
Italo Pannone, who joined the Church 2 1/2 years ago, was among those who worked on the celebration seeking sponsors and media coverage. He was also instrumental in gaining permission from an Italian movie producer to use five wagons.
"I have the feeling that I'm a pioneer, too.
That feelingT has had such an impact on me that when they asked me to be a part of this event, I put myself into it with big emotions," he said.
The idea for staging a pioneer parade down the streets of Rome was the idea of Luigi De Matteis, a member of the Rome District public affairs committee.
"The Lord told us that we must be a light," he said. "This trek must be a light to Rome to tell everyone that we are here."
Elder Raimondo Castellani, Area Authority Seventy, said, "This celebration, which was promoted and developed by the members in Rome, is their statement that they have planted the gospel deep in their hearts and they have a sense of their own purpose in their pioneering labors here."
Pres. Flosi sees the parade as an opportunity to meet more people and spread the gospel in greater ways - with the hope of creating a stake someday soon.
Once, in a conversation with Italian President Oscar Scalfaro, Pres. Flosi was asked the location of the Church building in Rome.
In a city adorned with magnificent cathedrals, we don't have our own building, Pres. Flosi said. "Rome is the only major western European city where a stake is not organized. The members in this city want to have a stake and the pioneer parade was a kind of rallying cry," he said. "It was a way of saying - we can do it."
The pioneer caravan included the five wagons representing the pioneers, followed by the American Folk Ensemble, and the Blue Grass Band from Ricks College. The singing Goodman family of Salt Lake City, also participated. Steve and Claudia and eight of their 12 children came to Italy and France for two weeks of concerts, including a moving family home evening performance in the famed Manzoni Theater in Rome.
Church members from around the country traveled to Rome to join in the procession. Missionaries walked the parade route while talking with spectators and giving short discussions.
The caravan took two hours to wind through Rome's famous streets and around the ancient edifices, including the scarred face of the coliseum, the decaying remains of the Forum, and pausing for a moment in the Piazza Venezia, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where members joined in a spontaneous rendition of "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet."
Unlike most parades, with the typical moods of gaiety, the pioneer caravan moved with a "reverent feeling," said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Seventy and first counselor in the Europe West Area presidency.
The parade received extensive coverage in the Italian media.
But "this celebration was really for the members of the Church here," said Giuseppe Pasta, national director of public affairs for the Church.
"It is their way of saying that the restored gospel is in Rome to stay, and the pioneers here are the foundation that will never crumble."
"The whole idea of a pioneer parade in Rome had to overcome some formidable obstacles," said Elder Andersen. "This sort of permission in Rome is rarely given, and it is a great tribute to the faith of those involved.
"Everyone clearly saw the hand of the Lord orchestrate this special event from such unusual circumstances," said Elder Andersen.