By Elisabeth Román
For six years, Mario St. Francis was represented by top modeling agencies and strutted on the runways for renowned designers; appeared in fashion magazines, HBO, and MTV; and was a rising star in Spanish soap operas. His life and career were looking up and he was on his way to becoming famous and happy. At the busiest time of his career, Mario was recovering from an injury, when he met a Catholic priest, who was a speaker at a parish mission, and his life was changed. He was just 24.
“God did something radical in my life at a parish mission. I wept powerfully from the depths of my soul and heard the voice of God say my name, and I said the word ‘yes.’ That’s all I knew I had to do. The rest has been history,” Mario says. “So I no longer want to model myself after actor and model Antonio Sabato, Jr., which I did; now, ‘I say St. Francis of Assisi I want to be like you.’ I am a model of faith, endurance, and fidelity to God.”
The night of his conversion Mario told his brother that he wanted to leave everything behind, sell everything, liquidate his assets, and asked him to say goodbye to their parents and that he loved them. “At first, my family said: ‘Here we go again. This is like when you were 12 and you wanted to take up karate or 14 and wanted to be a marine biologist; when you were 16 and wanted to play the drums and 19 when you wanted to be a model. And now you’re saying that you are called to be some sort of religious, a man of God as a priest or something else… yeah, we’ll see,’” he recalls, adding that although hurt by his family’s words, they were nonetheless true. Four years later his mother told him, “God has clearly been a father to you, literally providing for you spiritually, financially, and materially.” Mario’s parents, who are native of Colombia, now turn to him for spiritual advice and help.
Today, the 35-year-old is an international motivational speaker and lay Catholic evangelist who has set foot on every continent except Antarctica. “I am a contributor and, dare I even say, a leader in the new evangelization. So it’s not work; it’s commission; it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit and is expressed in testimonies, talks, reflections, retreats, or workshops on the fundamentals of Catholicism and their modern day applications. I am also the director of worldyouthday.com, which takes about 2,000 young people to World Youth Day,” Mario says. With Eduardo Verástegui and other Catholics in Hollywood, he is an independent consultant collaborating on films and media efforts that are a part of the new evangelization.
“Going from modeling to evangelist is actually not such a crazy jump; but it is if you just look at it and say, ‘Wait a minute, so you went without your shirt in runways and magazines and now suddenly you’re wearing a crucifix and leading people to Christ, talking about eternal life, marriage, family, virtue.’ But I continue modeling; I am just modeling something else. I actually have a script as an actor, it is called the Scriptures or catechism. I go on stage and preach Jesus Christ and the script isn’t written on paper, it is written in my heart.”
Do you think it’s crazy to throw away a future filled with economic opportunities and fame? Would you do it?