In the distance we can hear
voices descending through the mountain trees. Looking up the rocky slope, we see
three Italian girls, arm in arm, singing and walking toward us. Gradually we
recognize the song—a favorite among LDS young women—"I Walk by
Faith." As Iris Cartia, Annalisa Brandonisio, and Stefania Ferrazzano come
closer, they all begin talking at once—part in English, part in Italian, and
part in French, with a lot of hand gestures. Then Stefania starts to sing a
popular Italian song for us, accompanied with dancing and good-natured laughter.
Soon, the girls get serious again and sing several LDS hymns. These girls, who
range in age from fifteen to seventeen, come from widely different areas and
backgrounds in Italy, but it is obvious that they enjoy each other.
It was the summer of 1990, and the occasion was Torchlight
90, a multi-stake LDS Young Women camp in Italy. More than 130 girls
attended this week-long camp in the rugged mountains near L’Aquilla, about
fifty miles from Rome.
Quite by accident, we just happened to be in Trieste, Italy,
the day before the Young Women of the ward there were to leave for the camp.
Rita Schina, the Young Women leader in the Trieste Ward, invited us to accompany
the group. We had other plans, but a whisper in our hearts told us to go to the
camp instead, so we heeded the prompting. We have been thankful ever since that
There was something about the girls we met at the camp that
touched us spiritually. Perhaps it was their vibrant glow and the excitement
they expressed about their ideals. Or maybe it was their respect for their
leaders. Certainly, much of it was their love for each other, which grew deeper
every day they were together.
As the years have passed, we have corresponded with some of
the girls that were part of Torchlight 90 to see if the extraordinary
spirit we witnessed had continued in their lives. We have been pleased to find
that it has.
The camp was divided into seven individual campsites, each
representing one of the seven Young Women values. At every campsite, the girls
were mixed from several stakes or districts so they could develop friends from
other areas of Italy. The campsite was located on Rocco di Mezzo plateau,
surrounded by rugged mountains and dotted with scattered tents full of talking,
Three short whistle blasts—the call to supper. The three
girls hesitate for a moment, but supper can wait while they finish sharing
expressions of testimony and friendship. After a few more songs from these
unpretentious girls, we all reluctantly and slowly return to camp.
Every morning, all the girls gather for a flag-raising
ceremony, then engage in games. This morning, there are clouds overhead and the
mountain winds blow cold. The girls make a semicircle in front of the flags. As
the sun gradually blossoms over the mountain peaks, everyone stands quietly for
the opening prayer. The sounds of birds and crickets lightly pepper the soft
whisper of the wind. This is a special morning, because Brother Christian
Euvrard, a regional leader in the area, is speaking to the girls. He talks about
the Young Women program as a guide for planning the future. When he finishes, he
picks up a stick and breaks it as a symbol that the ceremony is over. Now it is
time for games. And that’s when something unusual begins to happen.
As the girls join together in various groups, one of the
groups appears isolated from the others. It is a small group of American girls
whose parents work or are stationed temporarily in Italy. They don’t speak
Italian, and they are not familiar with some of the everyday customs that come
naturally to the Italian girls. They feel awkward. The Italian girls huddle
together, then walk over to the Americans and tell them about an experience they
had at a Church-sponsored event in Florence last
year. "One of the members of our group did not speak Italian, so we decided
to go through a whole day without speaking, using only hand signs. When the day
ended, we all felt much closer to each other." Soon both Americans and
Italians are talking and singing together. It is a beginning.
An Enduring Influence
The American girls’ Young Women leader, Linda Black, still
lives in Verona, Italy. She wrote to us that several of the American girls
became close friends with some of the Italian girls and have continued to write
Annalisa Brandonisio, from Venice, wrote us, "Even though
our language and customs were different, I felt united to the American group
because of the strong influence of the Spirit of the Lord that was with
Telling us about the camp, she said, "It was often hard
for me to sleep at night, because my heart was so filled with emotion and
feelings for that special week in the mountains. Torchlight 90 helped me
to realize that I can get closer to God by having the right kind of
Annalisa is nineteen now. She is a stake missionary and a
visiting teacher in the Modena Ward, in the Venice Italy Stake. She plans to
serve a "mini-mission" this summer and a full-time mission when she is
Sonia Plescovich, from the Genoa Third Branch, Torino Italy
District, wrote: "Torchlight 90 will remain in my heart for the rest
of my life. Though we were many girls from many places, we all had the same
ideals, the same thoughts and beliefs. Even though we had never seen each other
before, it was as if we were friends from birth. I learned to love those girls
as much as my own family. Because of the example of some of them, I learned to
read the Book of Mormon every night. Being there and feeling the love of
everyone in the camp, I felt closer to God than I have ever felt before. It
seemed that the veil that divides us from God didn’t exist for a time."
Sonia, now twenty, is the first counselor in the branch Relief
Society presidency, a visiting teacher, and the branch choir director and
organist. She is planning to begin a full-time mission sometime this year. In
her most recent letter, she commented: "I saw some of the girls I met at Torchlight
90 at one of our latest Young Adult conferences, and we talked of the
wonderful memories we have of the camp. I still have special feelings for the
girls I met at Torchlight 90."
Iris Cartia from the Vimercate Branch, Milan Italy Stake,
wrote about her feelings toward the girls she met at the camp: "The Church
is not spread widely in Italy yet, and even the members within a branch or ward
often live far from each other. So I cherished the opportunities to get together
with girls who share my beliefs and feelings. Those were special moments in my
life. And from them I drew the strength to go on and be different from the
world, to be a light for those around me. I know that neither time nor distance
can prevent those who love the gospel from meeting together with joy, no matter
where they come from."
Shortly after the camp, Iris had written to us, "This
experience helped me concentrate on the important things, like planning my life
so I can go on a mission and get married in the temple someday."
Three years later, those goals are still important to Iris.
She is now nineteen and serves as the branch organist, director of the Relief
Society choir, and a visiting teacher. She served a "mini-mission" in
Torino, Italy, and corresponds with a 73-year-old woman she contacted as a
missionary there. She plans to go on a full-time mission.
Iris continues to feel the influence of the camp in her life: "Torchlight
90 gave me an ideal and example that still lives in my heart. The example
set by the leaders at the camp guides my leadership style considerably."
Stefania Ferrazzano from the Foggia Branch, Puglia Italy
District, wrote about the camp: "Being in the mountains without modern
conveniences made me realize how much I took for granted and how much the Lord
has blessed my life. It helped me to know that my life depends on God and that
the gospel is my anchor and my guide. At the camp I learned that we have to work
for the things we want to achieve, but if we do our part, the Lord will do the
Stefania is twenty now and is ready to
go on a full-time mission when she turns twenty-one. Her sister is currently
serving a mission in Milan. Stefania is the first counselor in the branch Relief
Society presidency, branch librarian, and assistant clerk. She has also served
as a Sunday School teacher for young people from twelve to eighteen. She tells
us, "Even after three years, Torchlight 90’s influence on my
testimony is still present."
"From the Top, Upward"
The Young Women gather in a "campfire circle" that
has no fire—it is not lawful to have a large open campfire in these mountains.
The excited conversations race back and forth, and there is vivid hand-waving as
one girl or another tries to emphasize a point. All this is mixed with smiles
and laughter and an occasional tear of understanding.
The girls continue to laugh and talk
noisily until Sister Adele Peloni, a Young Women leader from the Venice Italy
Stake and one of the camp leaders,
stands, ushering in a stillness
that amplifies the soft sounds of the mountain breezes. "Remember the
standards of Young Women. … Be true to yourself," she tells them.
The camp theme, "From the top, upward," and the camp
theme song, "I Walk by Faith," reflect the ideals of the Young Women
program all over the world. The girls have heard these concepts before, but
somehow, in this setting, with the mountains so near and new friends by their
sides, the girls feel exhilarating energy in the words that instill deeper
feelings of love for one another and a greater desire to be close to the Spirit.
As the sun sets behind the towering mountains, leaving a gray
cold, the girls huddle in their tents and talk about their experiences at the
camp—putting up tents in the wind, making tables from wooden poles and ropes,
and cooking without modern conveniences. They laugh about the games and the
tricks they played on each other. Then, as the night closes in, they get more
personal, and the girls share their feelings and hopes. Often these thoughts
turn toward the gospel and what it means in their lives.
We had to leave the camp before the final night, so Tiziana
Rossato, one of the leaders from the Venice Italy Stake, wrote to share with us
that night’s experience: "In the final testimony meeting, the girls and
leaders formed a big circle, hand in hand, and sang a goodbye song. They started
with strong voices, but ended in tears and sobs, then total silence for a long
time after the closing prayer."
We attended the camp to see if such an experience could change
the lives of young LDS girls. Now we realize that the experience changed our
lives as well. The joy the girls felt in living simple gospel standards, and the
unpretentious love and respect they showed to us and to each other, have been
lasting influences in our lives.
We still receive letters from the girls, and they often recall
for us their special feelings for the camp and for the people they met there and
how their lives have been changed because of Torchlight 90. One of the
girls summed up the feelings of all who attended the camp: "The Spirit of
the Lord works like magic in our Young Women camps; it can touch your heart for
a split second, but change your life forever."