TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney has been reticent on the campaign trail about his Mormon faith, but that veil lifted somewhat -- at least for delegates, media and guests attending the Republican National Convention -- with moving testimonials Thursday night from a fellow church leader and congregants who recalled Romney as a loving and compassionate lay pastor.
Though Romney has purposefully not put his religious affiliation in the foreground, the testimonials clearly moved members of his church. "Welcome to our world, people. We cry. We care for each other," tweeted one woman at the conclusion of the testimonials, “and we step around thorny issues. Y'all just went to Mormon church."
If elected, Romney would be the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to sit in the White House.
Grant Bennett, who served as an assistant to Romney in the Boston area, described Romney’s tireless efforts to serve members of their congregation. “We embraced Christ's admonition,” Bennett said,"‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’”
Bennett described Romney devoting 10 to 20 hours a week or more, even as he held a taxing job at Bain Capital. ”Drawing on the skills and resources of those in our congregation," Bennett said, "Mitt provided food and housing, rides to the doctor and companions to sit with those who were ill."
In a stark contrast to the callous vulture capitalist depicted by critics, Bennett said he saw the Romney who “shoveled snow and raked leaves for the elderly; he took down tables and swept the floors at church dinners.”
Only when he became a pastor, Bennett said, did he “understand the dedication this calling requires -- and the clarity this service provides into the full range of our shared human experience.”
Bennett was followed by members of two families who described Romney’s tender attention to their children who had serious medical crises.
Pat and Ted Oparowski described a “deeply good man” who helped them cope when their teenage son became ill with Hodgkins Disease. The couple described Romney as being in the “vanguard” of their support group in their Massachusetts community.
Romney brought their 14-year-old son, David, fireworks and even helped him write a will so friends could get his prized possessions. The aid was particularly meaningful because Romney helped without expectation of any credit, the couple said.
“The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble,” said Ted Oparowski -- a time, he said, when there is only a dying boy and “no cameras and no recorders.”
Pam Finlayson, whose family also attended the Mormon church in Belmont, Mass., when Romney was a leader, told how Romney gently ministered to her infant daughter, Kate, who was born prematurely.
The Romney family also took in her young son when needed and treated him like their sixth son, Finlayson said. She told of Romney with tears filling his eyes as he watched over her tiny daughter. “He saw our beautiful little girl … and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her,” Finlayson said.
Her daughter lived to be 26 but died a year and a half ago, Finlayson said. She said "the country will be blessed by a man who is not only accomplished, but has devoted his entire life to quietly serving others.”
The presentations came near the beginning of a series of tributes, which included testimonials about Romney's help to businesses when he worked at Bain Capital and from constituents and others who recalled his term as governor of Massachusetts.
The testimonials followed an invocation delivered by Ken Hutchins of Northborough, Mass., a former police chief who was also a Mormon leader in the state.
The presentations brought Romney's faith -- and an authentic side of a candidate sometimes viewed as overly formal -- to the forefront in a way it seldom has in the more than six years he has conducted two runs for the White House.