Actor Mark Wahlberg's faith journey leaves impression on young adults

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) — Hearing the
faith journey of Hollywood actor and businessman Mark Wahlberg left an
impression on the hearts of many young adults at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s
first (re)Encounter event Oct. 20 at the UIC Pavilion.

“It’s powerful for a celebrity
to feel that way about religion,” said Omar Lopez, 21, from St. Gall Parish.
“For me, when I think about a celebrity, I think cockiness, selfishness, but to
hear an artist say that he takes time to just pray, that’s an incredible

Lopez rushed to the stage at the
end of Wahlberg’s segment and got to shake the actor’s hand.

“I came to hear him because
personally I feel lost myself,” Lopez told the Chicago Catholic, the
archdiocesan newspaper. “At first I was really skeptical about it. I came here
to just to hear different stories and to hear different aspects of life.”

About 2,000 young adults
attended (re)Encounter — an evening of music, speakers, faith sharing and
eucharistic adoration aimed at energizing the faith of young adult Catholics.

The highlight was a
question-and-answer session with Wahlberg and Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.

Star of movies such as
“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Ted” and “Deepwater Horizon” and producer
of the popular HBO series “Entourage,” Wahlberg takes his faith seriously,
often attending daily Mass and making time for quiet prayer each morning. He emceed
the Festival of Families with Pope Francis during the World Meeting of Families
in Philadelphia in 2015.

His faith wasn’t always
important to him. Youngest in a family of nine children, he dropped out of
school at 13, and served prison time. At 16, he was charged with attempted
murder but he pleaded guilty to assault.

Today, he said, he’s committed
to being a good father and husband and giving his children the Catholic
education he didn’t have.

“I’m a street kid from
Dorchester, Massachusetts. Grew up in St. Greg’s and St. William’s parishes,” he told
the crowd.

Because his parents worked a
lot, he was often unsupervised and took to running the streets.

“Ended up getting into a lot of
trouble, incarcerated, tried as an adult at 16, 17. That was a big wake-up call
for me,” he told Cardinal Cupich. “A lot of people go to God, especially when
they get in trouble. When I heard the jail doors close behind me, I started
praying right away.”

It was then that he turned his
life around.

“Still, every day it’s a
process. That’s why I start my day, every day, by getting on my hands and my
knees and starting a time of prayer and reading, reading Scripture. Then I feel
like I can go out there and conquer the world or at least do my job and give
back because I’ve been blessed so much,” Wahlberg said.

He keeps in daily touch with his
parish priest from when he was growing up, Father Ed Flavin, who married him
and his wife and all of his siblings and baptized his four children. When
Wahlberg decided to turn his life around, the priest was one of the people he
looked up to.

Wahlberg, 46, said his biggest
mistake was quitting school. Despite having a successful career as an
entertainer and businessman, that haunted him, so he got his GED at age 42.

Responding to a young adult’s
question about making time for prayer and Mass in a busy life, the actor said
it’s a “must.” He goes to bed early every night and wakes up before his family
to pray in the chapel he built in his home.

Addressing another audience
question about knowing when one has made the right decision in life according
to God’s will, Wahlberg shared how he felt God was calling him to more
involvement with his faith leading up to the World Meeting of Families and his
role as emcee at an event featuring the pope.

Somebody came to speak at the
church … they were saying, ‘Are you a participant in the church and the
community or are you a spectator?’ And I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I felt like, yeah,
I’m a bit of a spectator right now,” Wahlberg said. “I’m coming and getting
what I need, but I’m not really giving back, you know, reciprocating the kind of
love and support I’m getting.”

That encounter resulted in him
saying “yes” to ushering when asked a few days later, and subsequently saying
“yes” to the event with Pope Francis when asked a few days after that.

Wahlberg’s commitment to prayer
inspired Yunuen Arroyo of St. Odillo Parish in Berwyn.

“I can’t even explain the
motivation he has,” she said. “The whole event is awesome. I love it. I really
enjoyed the questions because I’ve asked those questions, like, ‘How do you
forgive yourself?'” said Arroyo. “You just have to keep going every day. You
just have to keep trying.”

Mary Kando of the Assyrian
Church of the East, Mar Gewargis Cathedral, also connected to the actor’s faith

“Not that my life has been
anywhere near his life, but sometimes I feel like, ‘How can I pull myself
together?'” Kando said.

A friend invited Kando to
(re)Encounter and she was glad she accepted.

“I heard about it but I wasn’t
really motivated to go because I didn’t want to go by myself,” she said. “I was
looking for something to pull me back in. Not that I was away, but I was just
kind of sick of the mundane, ‘It’s just Sunday Mass.’ I wanted to get

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Duriga is editor of the Chicago
Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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