Shalom Tidings magazine has just launched their first issue and has featured an article that is worth a read. It is very well written and their staff write Mary Job did a great job of communicating my story and at the same time she weaved in important points that easily get lost.
This article highlights the effects of the media on our youth as well as laying out the different God-incidences that occurred in my life bringing me to where I am now.
A CATHOLIC MODEL by Mary Job
MARIO FOUND HIMSELF RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH THE RICH AND FAMOUS. HE WAS OFFERED THE OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME A FASHION MODEL.
FAITHLESS IDOLS - A few years ago, research in the United States on television viewing found that two to five-year olds watch an average of thirty-two hours of television a week. Six to eleven-year olds watch twenty-eight hours per week. At younger ages, pre-school age
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programming is available; enhancing the child’s learning experience. However, as they get older, children are offered less quality programming. As a young child, Mario Herrera was one of these statistical children. With his digital babysitter, he would spend hours in front of the television fascinated by the myriad channels that came with cable television. Mostly he would be engrossed in the Music Television channel (MTV) with its stylized videos. Everyone seemed to be cool and their lives seemed awesome on screen. In essence, they became role models he wanted to emulate.
A cradle Catholic growing up around Washington, D.C., Mario had a few years of pious devotion and desire for God. As a teenager, he did not put too much credence in his faith. A rebellious teenager, he had a run in with the law that resulted in him going from Catholic school to military school for his senior year of high school. For that one year spent in a school of solid discipline, moral codes, and true authority figures, Mario excelled. This normally C and D-student made A’s and B’s. He received many honors and was one of the most decorated cadets that year.
Mario knew he thrived in a disciplinary environment and he thought joining the United States Marine Corps would be the next best path. A few days prior to shipping out for basic training, he was involved in an accident where he was able to save the lives of four drowning strangers. At the same time, he was injured seriously enough to no longer join the Corps.
Entering the workforce in sports and recreation, Mario found himself rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. He was offered the opportunity to become a fashion model. He was offered the opportunity to make a lot of money. He was offered the opportunity to travel around the world. He was offered the opportunity to mingle with the wealthy, with a bevy of women. He was offered the opportunity to now, no longer merely admire those he saw on television, but to be one of those people others admired. Mario’s life as a model gave him all the excesses of fame—a half-a-million dollar loft, worldwide traveling, promiscuous behavior, and many drunken nights. It was a fast life going everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
THE LONG WAY AROUND
There was money to be made and adulation to bask in. He accepted an offer to go to Colombia, South America, and
participate in a contest that would choose one man for the title of Mr. Colombia to then compete for the title of Mr. World. In addition, he acted in a soap opera and participated in a televised game show. On a weekly basis he would be ogled and admired on television screens across the country. Now young kids were looking at him, wanting to be just like him.
Minutes before he was to sign a lucrative contract, Mario broke his hand in a freak accident. Lying in a pool of his blood for nearly an hour, he began to realize his physical, emotional, and mental loneliness. He also, for the first time, prayed to God in a sincere way. He prayed for his life to be saved. And God answered his prayers.
Mario, disillusioned by the media attack and lack of sympathy he received after his accident, abruptly left Colombia and moved back to the United States. And he also forgot how God had answered his prayers.
Back to his old ways, one night, while his friend drove drunkenly, Mario, in equal stupor, idly sat as a passenger in the fast-moving vehicle. But he kept hearing a voice…it was telling him to put his seatbelt on. After the third time of the same request, Mario finally chose to put his seatbelt on. As soon as he fastened the buckle, the car crashed into a telephone pole. Badly shaken but alive, Mario went back to his apartment. There, next to his bed, from behind a filing cabinet, he noticed a picture of Jesus. The picture may have been left there by the previous owner. Seeing the
picture of Jesus Christ made Mario reflect upon his childhood faith. He thought about what he learned about the faith when he was young. He now wondered whether Jesus was just someone important for children or was He really relevant to Mario’s life and situation?
A NOT SO OLD, BALD, AND BORING PRIEST
Mario’s questions led him to explore Protestantism initially, where he had picked up the habit of attending services with a notebook in hand to listen to a lecture and jot down notes. Mario began studying to become a physical therapist; it was a movement away from modeling the body, to healing body. One day, his physiology instructor, a Catholic, invited Mario to a parish mission during the Lenten season. He went with his trusty notebook, sat way in the back, attentive and ready to take notes. But this was no note-taking discourse. The speaker spoke powerfully. He was funny and confident. He knew about the human condition so well and eloquently applied it to life; well, to Mario’s life it seemed. Mario did not need further persuading to attend the remainder of the weekend mission. And he did not
need the notebook to absorb what he was hearing. God seemed to be writing on Mario’s heart.
On another occasion, the speaker did a one-man drama on the Passion of Christ, playing various parts from Pontius Pilate, to the soldiers, to Christ Himself. The speaker infused medical perspectives and even added sound effects. But it was the total effect – the relaying of the life of this young man who was so cruelly and brutally beaten for the sins of the whole world, it was the story of this young, healthy, man, who was God Himself, but who withstood the pain and torture without uttering a word that so moved Mario.
When Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) it was the first time Mario understood how much those around Jesus had hurt him, and, on a larger scale, how much God is offended by our actions, by the actions of His children. Hearing the words of Jesus at that moment, Mario realized how much he had hurt God through his actions. And then the speaker put on his vestments. It was only then that Mario realized that the man he had heard all weekend was a Catholic priest, Father Larry Richards. It was Mario’s first experience of a
priest who was not old, bald, and boring. Father Richards then picked up the monstrance which contained the Blessed Sacrament and processed around the room. As the Blessed Sacrament got closer to Mario, he broke down sobbing, crying uncontrollably.
In his mind, Mario had been telling God that he was unworthy. Mario thought God would not want him. His reckless life was something God probably would not want to have anything to do with. He did not want God to see his dark soul. But as the Blessed Sacrament got closer to him, Mario heard a voice…it was the same voice he heard in the car two months earlier, it was his guardian angel or maybe his own soul trying to call out to him. And the voice said, “Yes!” God did want Mario.
Mario’s tears were of great joy and of great repentance. He truly experienced being touched by God in that moment, in his heart, to his core. And that moment the feeling was so overwhelming that the tears poured out. Realizing that God loved him and forgave him transformed him. Where the body and mind goes, so goes the soul. And for years Mario’s soul begged him not to lead it to the darkness he took his being to. Being validated by that voice during the mission was the beginning of his soul being lead into the light and the desire to share this light with others.
A MODEL OF CHRIST
Saint Francis of Assisi was known as a wealthy playboy living a life poor in spirit. His conversion experience happened at the age of twenty-four, when he left everything he knew, and even his family and father, and took upon himself the cloak of poverty and humility as a model of Christ and followed The Father.
Eleven years ago this Lent, when he was also twenty-four years old, Mario experienced his reversion. Since his parents did not give him a middle name at birth, he adopted the name of his saintly model—and confirmation patron saint—and became Mario St. Francis Herrera. This new name gave him a more fulfilling identity. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, Mario St. Francis became a fool for Christ and relied on Divine providence for his material needs. There is a saying about wearing one’s heart on their sleeve. Mario St. Francis wears his heart—a heart devoted to God—in his name. His name is a declaration that he, like all God’s children, is called to a heavenly destination. He often reminds audiences that although we may have had a human birth and a human, earthly, name; we are all called to a divine
destiny. We are all called to be saints. To be saints in body and soul; it is a communion of this earthly life with the divine life whose end is eternal life.
Now a world renown lay Catholic evangelist, Mario St. Francis lives by the motto that to model our faith we must, “Learn it. Love it. Live it.” He studied Theology, Television and Film, and Catechesis for two years at the Franciscan University at Steubenville in Ohio. He is currently finishing up his degree in Philosophy and Theology in San Antonio, Texas, at the Mexican American Catholic College, where ninety-seven of the student body consists of seminarians.
For eleven years, Mario St. Francis has been a man on a mission– to inspire, to educate, and to motivate. He seeks to spread the word of God, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He studies his faith, attends Mass, prays, and confesses, in order that he can serve as God’s soldier. He is ready to hear the lamentations and concerns and questions from others of the Catholic faith—in fact, he keenly understands most of the questions and concerns
because he has had them in the past; but he is also on the ready to defend the faith. Mario St. Francis has experienced the Truth of Jesus Christ and for eleven years he has shared his experience so that others can, through him, experience God’s love.
A FUTURE IN CHRIST
One message that Mario St. Francis has for youth today is to do something active. Life and learning will not happen to them. They must do something in order to be something. To build his education of the faith, he also listened to CDs and MP3s about Catholicism. He attended numerous retreats and heard talks about personal stories and conversion experiences.
And one way to be active is to get away from MTV and other similar channels. Popular media today is one of the greatest dangers for youth. It is an economically driven form of communication that has no creed. It gives a distorted view of the human person, offers a false and superficial life, and it removes responsibility from actions. Mario St. Francis knows this all too well. He witnessed it from television as a child and experienced it in person later in life.
He also believes in the five pillars or five steps to Heaven and encourages young people to follow the steps, which include: reading the sacred scriptures (Holy Bible), participating in the Holy Mass (Eucharist), praying the rosary daily, going to confession regularly, and fasting.
Mario St. Francis’ life is like many who have or will go through great trials. He believes that these trials help bring about a conversion (or reversion) which will lead us away from this world to the fullness of Christ. But, we must remember that after this experience, we must then come back to the world and now bring Christ to the world. Mario St. Francis seeks to live out this call—this call for New Evangelization—and he invites us all to do
Mary Job serves on the editorial board of Shalom Tidings. She resides with her family in Edinburg, Texas.
From coast to coast, and continent to continent I am filled with experiences, thoughts, ideas and recommendations.