Meet Ottavio Palombaro: Italian Seminary Student
My name is Ottavio Palombaro. I was born in Castiglion del Lago, on the shores of Lake Trasimeno near Perugia, in a very strong Roman Catholic family right at the heart of Italy. I am the fourth child of five, from a Roman father and Belgian mother.
Growing up, I believed the Roman Catholic church was the only true church. I always went to mass, attended several religious movements (Young Catholic Students, Messianic Catholic, Catholic Charismatics, etc.), and went on pilgrimages in places of saints or where the Virgin Mary appeared. I was also very much involved in Catholic missions with the Marian religious order of my aunt, a nun, and the Salesian Don Bosco in Africa and South America. I lived in monasteries and often felt called to the priesthood. One time I gave all my possessions to the poor and wanted to go to Jerusalem as a pilgrim. I asked six different priests how I could know the will of God for my life but couldn’t receive any consistent answer.
I went to Rome for three years to study Cultural Anthropology. It was here that I met someone who became my girlfriend. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I moved to my girlfriend’s hometown of Turin to pursue a master’s degree in Sociology. Along the way, God was sending Protestant people to witness to me, such as American evangelists on campus and Brazilian Protestant family members of my girlfriend. But it was through an Albanian evangelical friend at the monastery where I was staying that I became more acquainted with their beliefs. I decided to read the Scriptures to prove him wrong in our heated debates. Through the Scriptures I could find no support for many dogmas of the Roman Church and I started to see my sin.
About that time, my girlfriend broke up with me. In my desperation, I went with my friend to an evangelical meeting in the south of Italy. After hearing a clear explanation of the Gospel, I committed my life to Christ. For the first time in my life I felt peace. Months later, as I attended a Brethren church and a Baptist church, I finally told my dad I was leaving the Catholic church. My dad wanted to kick me out of the house and my whole family was against me. The first year of my conversion I had to hide my Protestant Bible in the house and do many things in secret. At the Baptist church I became acquainted with the Suraci brothers. One pastor from the church of my Albanian friend challenged me to leave my house, family and job to follow Jesus as His disciple. I knew that God was calling me to become a pastor.
I left Perugia and went to Milan to plant a non-denominational church while pursuing a Ph.D. in Economic Sociology. I became a deacon, preached in the church once a month and in the squares of the university. I knew I needed theological training but the church where I was very Arminian in theology, so I left to go to the Netherlands to study theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Amsterdam. The more I studied, though, the more I could see that the seminary was shallow in doctrine, still Arminian and liberal.
I became convinced of the Reformed faith, so I applied for American Reformed seminaries (Westminster, Puritan, Reformed Theological Seminary). I heard of the Suraci and the Reformed group in my hometown Perugia. I already visited Filadelfia Reformed Church in Milan just prior to going to the Netherlands and I met with the Reformed group at Lake Trasimeno during the Christmas break in their meetings in the house having a church service through Skype with Milan’s church. The night before my Ph.D. graduation in Milan, I received an acceptance letter from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary with a full scholarship.
I went back to Perugia to apply for my VISA and spent the summer with Rev. Ferrari who was there to lead the Reformed group with the Suracis. I was excited that a Calvinist pastor was moving to my hometown. I told him of my recent acceptance to a Reformed seminary and asked him if he knew of some good churches in Grand Rapids. He told me of Cornerstone United Reformed Church, so I went and met the elders who supported the mission in Italy. I have since become a member of that church.
This summer (2018) I am headed to Perugia to do my seminary internship with Rev. Ferrari in my hometown of Perugia with the Reformed group that God in His providence has put together. My plan after my seminary studies is to graduate (January 2020), do my candidacy exam to become a pastor with the URC, raise support and go back to Italy/ I want to Lord serve as a full time missionary for the advancement of His kingdom in my homeland. There is nothing else in this world I could see myself doing apart from ministry and devoting my entire life to Him and His church.
~ Ottavio Palombaro