It was with mixed emotions that Zurilia and I first learned of the homecall of our dear friend and brother, Pietro Lorefice. Even though we had recently been forewarned that this event may well be imminent, it did little to mitigate our sense of loss on receiving the news itself. Nevertheless, our thoughts and prayers are very much with Pietro's wife, Teresa (his ever-present support and companion in the work of the gospel), their four daughters (Rosie, Paola, Susanna, and Alda), and their families. And we sincerely trust that 'the God of all comfort' will be the source of their comfort at this particular time.
In the brief 'appreciation' that follows, I wish simply to reflect upon a few incidents from Pietro's life and service as I, personally, remember them.
I first met Pietro in Watford in 1970. At that time I was coming to the end of a two-year course of biblical studies at the then headquarters of the EMF, whilst Pietro was in the process of joining the Mission. In doing so, he came with impeccable credentials. Born in the south-eastern Sicilian city of Modica, his early life might well have suggested that he was destined to become a Roman Catholic monk. Indeed, as a young man he had entered monasterial training with this end in view. The Lord, however, had better plans. And so, by the time of our first meeting, not only had Pietro experienced God's saving grace within his own heart, but he had been drawn by an overwhelming compulsion to proclaim this gospel among his native peoples. Ribera – a small town in the neighbouring province of Agrigento – not only became his base for a lifetime's ministry in Sicily, but also in much of mainland Italy too.
Looking back over my own participation in the work of the EMF, I now realise that almost everyone I ever knew and worked with in Italy –and even more so in Sicily – was a result of the work and influence of Pietro Lorefice. What makes this observation particularly interesting in my eyes is that there were times when I was inclined to the view that Pietro was naturally somewhat shy. If this assessment was anything close to being true, there was certainly nothing remotely reticent about his love for the gospel, nor his desire to communicate it. Certainly, wherever an opportunity presented itself to make Christ known, – whether this be in a church building, conference centre, school hall, house, garage, garden, or on the streets (and I had the privilege of witnessing his ministry in all of the foregoing places) – his somewhat diminutive figure could suddenly take on the form of a giant as he opened the scriptures and fearlessly proclaimed his much loved 'doctrines of grace'. Through his preaching and teaching ministry not only was he instrumental in the work of conversion, but influential in guiding quite a few to take up their gospel calling. Incidentally, I am also certain that many of my sermons were improved by his translation of them!
Preaching, however, was but one aspect of his wider influence on others. As the years rolled by, and as my own visits to Sicily increased, I found myself impressed and delighted in almost equal measure by what I saw in Pietro and came to regard as vital aspects of a well-rounded ministry. I wish to name but three of these: first, I was particularly challenged by his obvious and genuine love for those he tried to reach with the gospel; men and women from every strata of society, and every type of background. Someone has correctly observed that it is not enough for would-be preachers to love preaching, they must also have learned to love the people to whom they would preach. Pietro was definitely this kind of preacher. Secondly,and closely related to the foregoing, I was also impressed by his seemingly untiring patience among those to whom he was called to minister. No matter how slow some of them were to learn, no matter how often they seemed to slip backwards, he was always there for them, urging them on to a better way. And, thirdly, I was particularly delighted by his natural and infectious sense of humour. Probably correctly, few would rate this characteristic highly in the great scheme of things, but I could not help noticing how often it seemed to endear him to those who might not otherwise have given a hearing to his message. But, of course, these are just samples of the way in which Pietro's life and work touch my own mind and heart.
And now, as I conclude this 'appreciation', I have to'confess' [the use of that word would have amused him!] that I can hardly imagine Italy – let alone Sicily! – devoid of the presence of Pietro Lorefice. But at the same time I am also mindful of the words of one who, during his own unflagging ministry, often reminded himself of the fact that 'We are immortal until our work is done'. Pietro's work is done. He is at this very moment in the presence of the Lord whom he faithfully loved and served for more than 60 years! What we need are a few more like him! Surely it is therefore time again to 'pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest' to raise up and 'to send out [new] labourers into his harvest'.