By Raymond Syms
Christmas Day 1997 was a turning point in the life of Marino Restrepo. He was kidnapped for ransom by four armed guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC). Bound, gagged, and hooded, Restrepo, then 47 years, was kept in a cave for pickup by another group to be taken further into the dense Colombian jungle. Government soldiers were looking for him for two weeks so the handover could not be done.
“I was treated like an animal,” he said. He was fed wild fruits when taken out once daily from the cave. In a weakened state, he was told once the ransom was paid by his family, he would be killed.
The army stopped looking for him on day 15. The night before the second group of rebels arrived to take him from the cave, he had “a mystical experience”. Restrepo, a Colombia-born Catholic missionary, evangelist, and author of 12 books was the guest speaker at the January 31 virtual summit for men, ‘St Joseph – The Man for Our Time’, hosted by the National Catholic Men’s Ministry (NCMM).
More than 200 men logged in via Zoom and Facebook, from not only Trinidad and Tobago but other parts of the Caribbean, North America, and even Europe. Speaking from the Colombian capital of Bogotá, he gave his testimony. He grew up on a farm in a coffee producing town in the Andes Mountains and had a happy childhood. At 14 years, he went to live in Bogotá. It was the 1960s; the Hippie lifestyle was popular; he began turning away from the Catholic faith. “I got involved in drugs, numerologies, New Age. I lived a colourful life for a teenager that came from a province, a little town.”
He associated with Americans who had ‘ducked’ the Vietnam War draft, and Europeans backpacking through South America. At age 20, he got married and moved to Hamburg, Germany. While studying at the University of Hamburg, he continued the hippie life. After seven years, he moved with his wife and two sons to Los Angeles, California, where he was involved in the entertainment industry. “I lived far away from Christ. For 33 years away from God, my focus was materialism, pleasure, fame, living in the fast lane.” In 1997, he visited his homeland for Christmas.
It was a sad time for his family because over four years his wife died of cancer, a younger brother died at sea, his father died, another brother committed suicide, and then his mother died. His four sisters invited him to church for the traditional Christmas Novena to the Infant Jesus, December 16–24. Only his mother knew he was no longer practising the faith. On December 25, he visited friends and relatives and at midnight decided to overnight at his uncle’s coffee ranch. As he drove onto the compound and exited the jeep, he was confronted by the rebels.
A Mystical experience
His mystical experience with God changed his life “forever”. He was in a state of “spiritual ecstasy” which began with visions of his life as a three-year-old. Experiencing his life, there was excruciating pain, “not physical but spiritual pain”. He added, “It was the pain of sin, away from God. It got more painful as I got older…. I knew if I died that night I would be condemned.” He also had a vision of Heaven and had a conversation with God. He had “the most loving compassionate voice you could ever dream to hear…I felt incredible shame and guilt. He spoke to me at length.” Restrepo also saw that the forces of evil surrounded him. He was shown when he had turned away from going to confession at 15 years. He told participants, “If we only knew how powerful confession is, we would confess very often… I was given another chance.”
He saw himself waist-high in a ‘lake’ of his sins with his guardian angel, standing on a rock, looking lovingly over him. Mary was also there; he was “connected to her through a spiritual umbilical cord”. When he was born, he had been consecrated to Mary by his mother. His final vision was of the power of the Eucharist, noting that when we have communion, we “continue taking that light wherever we go, and wherever we go, demons flee”. In captivity, he prayed daily not to end up in the abyss: “I was no longer worrying about being killed by the guerrillas”. Six months later he was freed when the rebels abandoned him one night. Restrepo went to confession after recuperating from his ordeal and later returned to the United States, deciding to leave his old life behind. It took two years. He attended Mass daily. Restrepo returned to Columbia and with permission from the Archdiocese of Bogotá founded a mission, The Pilgrims of Love. He has been travelling the world for 21 years, visiting 120 countries, sharing his testimony.
Restrepo’s second talk was ‘Today’s Spiritual Warfare’, based on Ephesians 6:10. He said the moment we are baptised, we become the enemy of Satan who works to ensure our flame is “kept down”. “Our biggest battle is to stay alight, to be torches of light, to be vigilant, to be on fire” for God. He said Satan “wants you to be a dormant solider, enchanted with this world, a man of the flesh, a worldly person.
Each one of us has a responsibility. We are here on a mission.” He said it was no accident that when we are baptised, we are enlisted in God’s army. “When we awake and become active in the faith, we have all the weapons because we walk in the Light.” Restrepo said since demons do not have physical bodies, they attack through our intellect. The only way to defeat them is through humility. “We are all weak, like vessels of clay. Still God uses us. We cannot allow evil to dwell in our vulnerabilities.”
Restrepo suggested as we wake each day, “declare yourself guilty of sin” and pray to God for His mercy. “We have to recognise our weakness before God,” so that He can come to our aid. “Pride is our biggest enemy. In order to be strong against the devil, we have to remember we are not.” “Humility…” he told his male audience, “that is why the Church constantly teaches us to die to self.” Restrepo ended encouraging men to seek holiness in their lives and not be lukewarm in their Catholic faith.
His talks are available on marinorestrepo.com, and the NCMM’s coming events are on their Facebook page, and ncmmtt.org.