Marino Restrepo worked as an actor, producer, musician and composer in the entertainment industry for about 20 years. But one fateful Christmas Eve, he was kidnapped and taken to the Colombian wilderness where he struggled to survive for six months…Only a miracle could save his life!
Can you give us a glimpse into your childhood growing up in a small coffee growing town in the Andes Mountains?
I grew up in Colombia in a large Catholic family—the sixth of ten children. Since there were only Catholics in my town, I didn’t know any other faith or religion. The Catholic faith was an important part of our lives. We were active in the pastoral works of the Church every day, but for me it was then more of a religion than a spirituality. At the age of 14, when we moved to Bogota, the capital of Columbia I started to drift away from the Church. I had had no idea about what was going on in the world, so I felt enticed by all the new things I saw. The hippies, the rock and roll and all the promiscuity captivated and seduced me. Very soon I walked away from the faith altogether and didn’t go back to Church.
What was it about eastern religions and spirituality that really enticed you and drew you in?
All the eastern religions fascinated me, especially Hinduism via yoga and I began to read Mahabharata and Bhagawad Gita. At first it was just the beauty of the literature and the philosophies that drew me in, and then it became ritualistic. I began following gurus whose teaching drew me further away from the Catholic faith. By then I had stopped believing that Jesus was God. Instead I thought of Him as just another prophet.
Can you tell us about your experiences in Hollywood?
Soon after I moved to Los Angeles, I became connected with some very important people who gave me a lot of career opportunities. Sony Music signed me up as an exclusive artist in 1985. They released several of my records and I toured the world, enjoying a very successful musical career. When I wasn’t touring or recording, I was in Hollywood, acting, writing screenplays and producing films. Since California was the world center of the New Age movement, I became further immersed in its magic and mystery.
On Christmas Eve 1997, your life took a very drastic turn. What happened that night?
I was back home in Colombia for Christmas with my family. As I drove in the gate of my uncle’s coffee plantation near my hometown, six guys sprang out of the woods with machine guns, jumped into my land cruiser and forced me to go with them. A little way down the road, they abandoned my car and forced me to set out with them on foot. Up hills and through the jungle, we trudged, hour after hour, then another car journey and more walking until we finally reached a small cave. I was relieved to finally stop walking, but my situation quickly became worse. They pushed me into the cave, tied up my hands and put a hood over my head. It was horrible. The cave was full of bats and bugs that bit me all over, and it was impossible to escape.
My captors sold me to guerrilla rebels who demanded an enormous ransom and threatened to kill my sisters if it wasn’t paid. They told me that I was already sentenced to death because I had seen their faces and would see many more in the long process of coming up with the money. As soon as I paid the ransom they would execute me to prevent them getting caught after I was freed. I felt destroyed as a human being. There was no hope of making it out alive. My family was in grave danger and they would steal all the money I had ever made.
What were your thoughts when in captivity? Were they of desperation and doom or did you ever raise your thoughts to God in those moments of darkness?
In the first 15 days of captivity, I never thought of elevating my thoughts towards God. Instead I tried using all the New Age mind powers and techniques I had learnt. None of it helped me. But one day, God reached out to me in a mystical experience that changed my life forever.
Although I was awake and conscious, I saw a vision. In the distance I saw a mountain peak surmounted by an amazing city of light. My soul yearned to be in that city, but there was no way of getting there and it troubled me. Suddenly, I heard the sound of rushing water which changed into many voices, then resolved into one voice which came from everywhere, even inside of me. Though I had turned away from God for so many years, I knew instantly that it was God’s voice.
Illuminating my conscience and revealing the state of my soul. My life seemed to flash before me and I felt the pain caused by every sin I had ever committed, especially the ones I had never confessed because I had left the Church. I couldn’t handle all the love the Lord was pouring out upon me because I felt so unworthy, but He didn’t let me sink into my misery. He held me close, explained the whole history of salvation and revealed the beauty of His sacramental plan. I needed the healing and spiritual nourishment He freely offered in the sacraments. When I stopped going to Confession, I became insensitive to the harm my sin was causing to myself and others, and I strayed further and further into more and more heinous sins. He offered His life in reparation for all our sins, so that we could be healed and renewed, and when we go to Mass and receive Him in the Eucharist, we not only receive that healing, we become instruments of reparation ourselves, to pray for souls in need of His graces.
When the vision was over, I was completely changed. I wasn’t afraid of being killed anymore, but I was afraid of eternal condemnation. So, I prayed ardently that I would get the chance to go to Confession again. The very next day they brought me out of the cave, but I still spent another five and half months in captivity. In those months, my relationship with God grew closer each day. Finally, the miracle happened. I was suddenly released one night, just abandoned on a road with no explanation. I felt God’s power protecting me and knew that He had a plan for the rest of my life, starting with that Confession I’d been longing for.
How did your life change after this miraculous escape…?
As soon as I could, I went to Confession at a Franciscan monastery. As you can imagine, it was the longest confession of my life. When the priest lifted his hand to absolve me from my sins, I heard the most incredible noises way down below. I knew they were demons who were really upset that I was being released from their clutches. As soon as he finished the prayer of absolution, there was total silence and peace.
I fell in love with the Catholic Church which fed me daily with Christ’s healing presence in the Eucharist. The daily Mass readings confirmed my mystical experiences and I thirsted for more, soaking up the catechism, lives of the saints…
I returned to California, but after two years, I felt that God was calling me back to Colombia, despite my terrifying experience. I arrived back at the start of Holy week, but there were so many people there for Mass on Palm Sunday that I couldn’t get into the church. As I stood outside, getting brief glimpses of the actions of the Mass, Jesus came to me and I had another mystical experience with Him. It was as if His heart spoke to my heart, without words, but I understood everything. He told me that the mission I had been born for was just beginning. It would take me all around the world–every place I would visit was already chosen and every person who would hear my story had already been chosen by name.
I left my artistic career and became a lay Catholic missionary, founding the “Pilgrims of Love” (the name revealed by the Lord) with the archdiocese of Bogota. For the past 23 years, I have visited over 121 countries on every continent, not to promote myself, nor for my own glory, as I did in my days as a musician, but to proclaim the great deeds that the Lord has done in my life.
Being involved into New Age spirituality in the past what would be your advice to those who practice it today?
I was heavily involved in New Age practices for 33 years, starting at age 14 when I became a hippie. I would advise everyone to avoid all New Age practices because there is a spirit of evil surrounding them. They are very seductive because they appear to be positive, healing and powerful. But that is deceptive. As Saint Paul says, Satan dresses up as an angel of light. Although it appears to be good, it really hurts your soul. So I don’t recommend any New Age practices, because they are windows that open into the darkness, allowing evil spirits access to our souls to ruin our lives.
Could you please share 3 tips to encourage perseverance and a deepening love of God?
Daily prayer fuels my perseverance in the love of God. I have nurtured the habit of praying the Rosary daily. My first tip is to make time, even on the busiest days to pray the Rosary. My second tip is to go to Mass and Confession frequently. The sacraments strengthen us to fight temptations. My third tip is to make sure that we are walking our talk. To become a real Christian with a good heart and good intentions, we have to turn everything into good—good thoughts, good intentions, good feelings and good ideas. Everything we do should affirm the goodness of God, even the way we walk, or talk or look at people. They should see that there is something radically different about our goals in life.
Marino Restrepo is a lay Catholic missionary from Bogota Colombia. He shares his amazing testimony in the Shalom World program “Jesus My Savior”.
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