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THE PRIEST WHO FOUND CHRIST
By Joseph Zacchello (pronounced Za-kel-lo)
I was born in Venice, in north Italy, on March 22, 1917. At the age of ten, I was sent to a Roman Catholic Seminary in Piacenza, and was ordained a priest, after 12 years of study, on October 22, 1939.
Two months later Cardinal R. Rossi, my superior, sent me to America as assistant pastor of the new Italian Church of Blessed Mother Cabrini in Chicago. For four years I preached in Chicago, and later in New York. I never questioned whether my sermons or instruction were against the Bible. My only worry and ambition was to please the pope.
It was on a Sunday, in February 1944, when I turned on the radio and accidentally tuned in on a Protestant church program. The pastor was giving his message. I was going to change the program because I was not allowed to listen to Protestant sermons, but interested - - I do not know why - - I kept listening.
My old theology was shaken by one text from the Bible I heard over the radio: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Therefore, it was not a sin against the Holy Spirit to believe that one was saved.
I was not yet converted, but my mind was full of doubts about the Roman religion. I was beginning to worry about the teachings of the Bible more than about the dogmas and decrees of my pope. Poor people were giving me, every day, $5 to $30 for twenty minutes of ceremony called Mass because I promised to free the souls f their relatives from the fires of purgatory. But every time I looked at the big crucifix upon the altar, it seemed to me that Christ was rebuking me saying, "You are stealing money from poor, hardworking people by false promises. You teach doctrines against my teaching. Souls of believers do not go to a place of torment, for I have said, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours (Revelations 14:13). I do not need a repetition of the sacrifice of the cross, because My sacrifice was complete. My work of salvation was perfect, and God has sanctioned it by raising Me from the dead. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). If priests and the pope have the power to liberate souls from purgatory with Masses and indulgences, why do you wait for an offering? If you see a dog burning in the fire you do not wait for the owner to give you $5 to take the dog away from it."
I could no longer face the Christ on the altar. When I was preaching that the pope is the vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter, the infallible rock upon which Christ's church was built, a voice seemed to rebuke me again:
"You saw the pope in Rome, his large, rich palace, his guards, men kissing his foot. Do you really believe that he represents Me? I had nowhere to lay my head. Look at Me upon the cross. Do you really believe that God has built His church upon a man, when the Bible clearly says that Christ's Vicar on earth is the Holy Spirit and not a man (John 14:26)? 'And that rock was Christ' If the Roman Church is built upon a man, then it is not My church."
I was still preaching that the Bible is not a sufficient rule of faith, but that we need tradition and dogmas of the church to understand the Scriptures. But again a voice within me was saying: "You preach against the Bible teaching; you preach nonsense." If Christians need a pope to understand the Scriptures, what do they need to understand the pope? I have condemned tradition because everyone can understand what it necessary to know for personal salvation. 'But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name' (John 20:31).
I was teaching my people to go to Mary, to the Saints, instead of going directly to Christ. But a voice within me was asking: "Who saved you upon the cross?" Who paid your debt by shedding His blood? Mary, the Saints, or I, Jesus? You and many other priests do not believe in scapulars, novenas, rosaries, statues, candles; but you continue to keep them in your churches because you say simple people need simple things to remind them of God. You keep them in your churches because they are a good source of income, but I do not want any merchandising in my church. My believers should adore Me "Spirit and Truth. Destroy these idols; teach your people to pray, to come to Me only."
Where my doubts were really tormenting me was inside the confessional box. People were coming to me, kneeling before me, confessing their sins to me; and I, with a sign of the cross, was promising that I had the power to forgive their sins. I, a sinner, a man, was taking God's place, God's right, and that terrible voice was penetrating me, saying, You are depriving God of His glory. If sinners want to obtain forgiveness of their sins they must go to God, not to you, and make confession; to God alone they must pray for forgiveness. No man can forgive sins, but Jesus can, and does forgive sins. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1:21). "There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved' (Acts 4:12). 'For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus' (1st Timothy 2:5)."
I couldn't stay longer in the Roman Catholic Church because I could not continue to serve two masters, the pope and Christ. I could not believe two contradictory teachings, tradition and the Bible. I had to choose between Christ and the pope, between tradition and the Bible; and I have chosen Christ and the Bible. I left the Roman priesthood and the Roman religion in 1944, and now I have been led by the Holy Spirit to evangelize Roman Catholics and urge Christians to witness to them without fear.
Every time I see a priest walking in the street, it seems impossible, unbelievable "a dream" that once, not long ago, I myself had been a Roman Catholic priest, that I had to believe what he has to believe; that I hated to teach what he has to teach. I clearly know why I left the Church of Roman, but what I cannot fully understand is why priests stay in the priesthood, why I stayed in the Roman Church as a priest.
Now I travel widely to keep the American public informed on vital religious problems, and lecture in churches, colleges, and public places throughout the United States. I visit personally with priests and nuns. The Vatican sent a representative to ask for my return. Romanism seems to worry as many Roman Catholics are converted and Protestants become better witnesses for Christ.