By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 7, 2011
Former fashion model Mario St. Francis encouraged a crowded room of more than 400 young adults to listen to the quiet voice speaking to their hearts.
God speaks at unexpected times and in unexpected places, he said, but always has the best outcome.
“It’s like a voice. It’s like a thought. It’s like an inspiration,” said St. Francis. “We are all called. And if you don’t listen, (Jesus) is going to keep coming after you.”
“Revive!” for young adults helped kick off the 2011 Eucharistic Congress weekend on Friday, June 24. The crowd of young people filled the conference room at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway late into the evening for the celebration of their faith. Later, the hotel bar was buzzing with the same people at the “Revive!” after party.
“It’s amazing to see the followers of Christ and just to experience the variety of Catholics,” said Jibin Thomas, who attends Holy Family Church, Marietta.
Thomas, who is 23, dressed in an Aeropostale T-shirt. He earned a master’s degree in social work from Georgia State University in May. Thomas said hearing St. Francis’ message reminded him he needs to be open to listening to God’s voice as he considers his next plans.
Tara Sconzo, who attends St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, was making her first trip to “Revive!” She’s a leader of the young adult ministry at her parish.
“This was a really good crowd, good atmosphere for young Catholics to come together,” she said.
Jennifer Rhoads and Rebekah Lawson came from St. Pius X Church, Conyers.
Lawson, who is not Catholic, said she felt the Holy Spirit during the event.
“We are all Christians. We can choose to be in the same room and be in God’s presence together,” she said.
Rhoads said the night made her think about her decisions.
“I liked the story. I have my own religious experience. I like to hear other stories,” she said. “The adoration is always fantastic.”
The evening included worship led by Catholic musicians Tom Booth and Ed Bolduc and Eucharistic adoration that began when Father Henry Atem entered with the Blessed Sacrament held in a large golden monstrance.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory visited the crowd.
“This group brings together the Church’s promise … the promise that says the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well in North Georgia and that it has a great tomorrow ahead of it,” he said. “You’re not just the people of tomorrow, you are the people of right now, you are the people of today.”
The archbishop said he chose the congress’ theme of “The Harvest Is Abundant” to emphasis that vocations in the Church are broad.
“Vocations are much more expansive and extensive than just religious or clerical. Vocations have to do with what the Lord is asking of you and what you are willing to say yes to,” he said. “Vocations speak the language of commitment.”
He said a vocation director would be happy to speak with any one of them about a religious vocation, but the key for their future is finding God’s purpose in life and pursuing it with a lifetime commitment.
“I also want to talk to those who are committed to Jesus Christ in the sacrament of marriage. … I want to talk to people that will live the single life but who will live that life in such a way that it brings great peace and happiness to their life,” the archbishop said.
“I hope during the Eucharistic Congress you have some time to think about those things, you have some time to pray about those things. … May the Lord give you lots to think about,” he said.
St. Francis was once named one of the most eligible bachelors in the country. Pacing the stage and dressed in a gray suit, with an open-necked shirt, St. Francis had the crowd laughing at his stories, from working as a nightclub bouncer to taking a group of women dressed in short skirts and high heels from a dance club to adoration.
St. Francis grew up in the church, and during his teens he developed a taste for being the center of attention. That desire for attention led him from dance clubs to fashion photo shoots. During a trip to Colombia to sign a television contract, St. Francis was injured and unable to move. During the 90 minutes while he was unable to call for help, he started to reconsider his life. During the next year, events led him to a worship service with Eucharistic adoration and it was there that he decided to devote himself to serve as a Catholic evangelist.
“God’s Son was here. He knows what it’s like to not fit in. He came to relate to me. To draw me to himself, knowing I couldn’t do it perfectly. He just said I want you to follow me,” he said. “God gives us talents as a gift. What we do with those talents can be a gift back to God.”