Italy got its name from the Romans; Italia means “land of oxen” or “grazing land.” Many empires, governments, and world leaders have called it home—most notably the Roman Empire, which ruled for 600 years from 200 B.C. to the 400s A.D. During Medieval and Renaissance times Italy was splintered into dozens of city-states, and it was largely conquered by Napoleon in the 1800s. In the 1930s Benito Mussolini became dictator and ruled until 1943. In 1946 the Italian people voted to abolish monarchial rule and set up a republican form of government. Today Italy is one of Europe’s wealthiest countries, even though most of its southern provinces remain poor. The Vatican City, center of the Roman Catholic Church and located within Rome, is separate from the rest of the country, but it remains an influential force.
The Pentecostal movement in modern Italy began in 1908, when Italian immigrants to America came back to Italy to share the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit after the Azusa Street outpouring in 1907. The movement grew so rapidly—with preaching confirmed by signs and wonders—that the government outlawed Pentecostal worship and closed all Pentecostal churches in Italy on April 9, 1935. This fascist law continued to persecute the Pentecostal church until May 12,1959, when the law was rescinded.
Today there is a powerful move of the Spirit throughout Italy. Most of the churches experiencing great growth and revival are pastored by young men under the age of 40. For example, one church in Lodi (near Milano) is pastored by a 36-year-old man. He was a Catholic priest until he saw both of his sick parents healed of terminal illnesses and saved in an Assemblies of God church. Today he and his Assemblies of God church in Lodi have planted 12 other churches that are growing rapidly.
About 75 percent of Italians claim to be Roman Catholic, but only about 12 percent are faithful churchgoers. Today 500,000 Muslims, 300,000 evangelicals, 150,000 Jews, and many members of cults and other religious groups live in Italy. During the twentieth century Pentecostal churches suffered severe persecution, especially under Mussolini, and Pentecostal believers were officially outlawed. But persecution only strengthened the church, and every pastor who was exiled to another town started another church there!
The Movement Today
Today there are 1300 AG churches in Italy, including ethnic AG fellowships that have been incorporated into the Assemblies of God, with about 550 pastors. With the revival among the Italian Pentecostal churches as well as immigration from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia, the evangelical population has swelled to over 500,000 believers in Italy.
Additional Facts About Italy
Area: 116,348 square miles
Population: 62.2 million
Urbanization: 70.4 percent
Government: parliamentary republic
Official language: Italian
Agriculture: fruits, vegetables, grapes, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans, grain, olives; beef, dairy products; fish
Industry: tourism, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles, motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, ceramics
Mining: natural gas, granite, and marble