For the whole of the 18th century the Waldensians continued to suffer from social relegation and were subject to discriminatory legislation:second-class citizens, isolated in their own territory, similar to the Jews in their ghettos. To experience civil and political rights they had to wait for the Declaration of Emancipation of Carlo Alberto, issued on 17th February, 1848.
Though their civil and political rights were recognized by this edict of King Carlo Alberto (Waldensians still celebrate this date), Catholicism remained the official religion of State. Consequently the modern principles of separation of Church and State, and therefore religious freedom, were not put into effect; neither the Roman Catholic church nor the Italian society were ready for the demands of a modern society.
The Waldensians, on the other hand,from the Risorgimento to the Resistance, actively undertook to defend these principles, convinced of their importance for the political and social renewal of the country.
From 1848 and the beginning of the Risorgimento, the Waldensians were not the only Protestants present in Italy. Groups of political exiles in Piemonte or returning from other European countries, founded the Italian Free Church, others accepted the preaching of Methodist and Baptist missionaries coming from the Anglo-saxon world.
Both the Waldensians and other Protestants used the term ‘evangelization’ for this commitment in the social life of the nation. When they spoke of ‘evangelizing’ Italy, they did not intend to institute a new religion but, like Valdo, to bring the message of thenGospel up-to-date: to promulgate the Bible message, encourage theological thought and renew Christian faith.
This work of witness was carried out by preaching and the opening of places of worship, but it was also expressed in social ministries, especially in the field of education. A network of primary schools was created – it can be said that every Protestant community had its own school; the teacher, together with the Bible pedlar, was a typical Italian evangelist. As well as schools,there were dormitorites for out-of-town students, orphanages and trade schools. Just as important were the specialized welfare ministries, with the foundation of hospitals and homes for the elderly.