Marino Restrepo’s life took a drastic turn at midnight on Christmas Eve in 1997. Driving to the ranch of one of his uncles in Colombia, where he was to spend the night, he was kidnapped by the Colombian rebels of the FARC (Revolutionary Arm Forces of Colombia) and taken to the jungle. He was held hostage for six months.
When he was released, he was a changed man. And over time, the change turned him into a remarkable witness for the faith, so much so that we decided we needed to recognize him among our “Top Ten” people of 2011.
Marino Restrepo was born in the Andes Mountains of Colombia in a small coffee-growers town. His family was one of strong Catholic faith, following all of the traditional Catholic traditions and teachings. He was the sixth child in a family of 10.
At age 14 he moved to the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, for his high school education. He married shortly before he turned 20, and moved to Hamburg, Germany, where he attended the University of Hamburg and studied arts. His two sons were born there, and after spending six years in Germany, he moved to Los Angeles, California. He has lived in Los Angeles ever since, working in the entertainment industry as an actor and musical composer — not a place normally conducive to great sanctity.
In 1985, he was signed to Sony music of New York as an exclusive artist with his band Santa Fe. The band released a number of albums worldwide and toured throughout the world following the release of their records. Marino lived in this world of entertainment for 20 years, and he spent all those years away from his childhood faith.
He had started to drift away from Catholicism already when he moved to Bogotá in the 1960s. He himself says that he became “a pagan,” and his life took a sharp turn towards the life of a worldly human being, focused on shallow materialistic matters such as money, fame, and pleasure. He involved himself in Eastern pagan religions and all kinds of esoteric sciences, such as astrology, crystals, candles, aromatherapy, flora therapy, card reading, I-ching, runes, psychics and all kinds of superstitions.
Then came Christmas of 1997.
During the first 15 days of his kidnapping, he was kept in a cave with bats and different kinds of bugs while the captors were waiting for the rebels to pick him up.
In that very cave, and after finding out that he was sentenced to death by his captors, he went through a mystical experience with God that changed his life forever. Five and a half months later, Marino was miraculously released from captivity after a miracle of God, and after his release he went back to his Catholic faith. Eighteen months later he became a full-time missionary for the Catholic Church leaving all of his past, and his worldly possessions, behind.
After his release from captivity in the jungle, Marino went to confession with a Franciscan priest who shortly after became his spiritual father: Fray Jose Maria de las Cinco Llagas, an Italian, and founder in Colombia of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal order. Marino then spent 14 months in California, learning how to be a Catholic again.
One day during the celebration of a Palm Sunday Mass, he had another mystical experience. He was shown by Jesus on the crucifix a vision of the mission that lay ahead of him. He was to accept it or reject it. Jesus was not obliging him to follow his direction.
Soon after that Holy Week, he began a missionary experience where his conversion testimony became the center of a full-time mission. That started in 1999 and has been ongoing throughout the world ever since.
By observing the needs of many poor priests in the very heart of true poverty in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Panama, Marino was inspired to seek in countries with more privileged economies the right help for the right needs.
He says he has seen the Holy Mass being celebrated with a plastic chalice and priests wearing liturgical garments that were improvised by good and very poor Samaritans. So he began to ask for donations of altar vessels that were not being used any longer, as well as liturgical garments that were old and out of circulation in the wealthy parishes of North America and Europe. This turned to be a great ministry that has provided the necessary items that they do not have for many parishes in the poor countries. There still are hundreds of churches in great need.
Marino also founded a lay mission called The Pilgrims of Love. Through this group, he works to provide poor Catholics not only with the word of the Gospel, but also with food, medicine, education and clothing. He has been able to build churches and chapels in many of those communities, as well as schools and first aid centers. He is a very strict follower of the social doctrine of the Church and he has the full support of his bishop: Monsignor Roberto Ospina from the St. Peter’s Parish in Bogota.
What began as a terrifying kidnapping ended up becoming a doorway to new life.
—By Inside the Vatican Staff