Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist, Gospel writer, and one of the Church’s four living creatures—the lion. Today, as the Church celebrates Saint Mark, I celebrate the life of another “saint Mark.”
If we are lucky, we are surrounded by people in our lives who support us tirelessly, who care deeply about us, and who have made it their mission to help us get to Heaven one day. I have been one of those lucky people to have a countless number people support me, care about me, and help me strive for Heaven. One of those people is my very own “saint Mark.”
I met Mark Pacione, like many other youth from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, at a weeklong Christian leadership camp called High-Li. I attended High-Li in July 2008 not knowing how much of an impact Mark would have on my life nearly seven years later. Mark was a constant presence in my life.
As the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Mark was at every diocesan event I attended. Not only was he there running these events, but his presence, love, and joy filled the room. I was honored every time I saw Mark and he remembered my name. He had an uncanny ability to make you feel like the most important person in the world when he spoke to you. That was my “saint Mark.”
Over the years Mark grew from my mentor at High-Li to a friend. He helped me with college applications, made time to see me every time he visited Catholic University, my alma mater, and walked life’s journey with me, never ceasing to pray for me and for all of the other young lives he touched.
When I chose to go on mission with FMS, Mark was one of the first to congratulate me. He was one of the first to donate to the amazing journey that lied ahead of me. He was one of the first to offer his prayers, love, and support. It was in these moments that I was so grateful for “saint Mark.”
Two weeks before I was set to leave for mission in Guatemala, I went to Mark’s house for his annual Christmas party. I spent the evening catching up with old friends, playing cards, and laughing—laughing a lot. There, Mark bragged to everyone about the “good work” I would do on mission and beyond.
Before I left Mark pulled me to the side and said, “you are an inspiration to me, I’ve always known you would do amazing things, and I am so proud of you.” I proceeded to thank him not only for what he said, but for all he had given me even if he didn’t realize it. He laughed at me and said that it was his honor to be a part of my journey. All I could do was smile at “saint Mark.”
Three days later, just ten short days before I was to board my plane for two years of mission, “saint Mark” passed away. His untimely death sent waves of grief and mourning across the Archdiocese, the country, and I would venture to say across the world. But with those waves of grief and mourning were also waves of love, hope, and peace.
The joy of Mark’s life and memory was greater than the suffering. Thousands of people came together to mourn the loss of our dear “saint Mark.” Through grief, loss, and joy, I was reminded of the words Mark shared during my time at High-Li, words that were also shared at his wake: “Lord, I know not what tomorrow brings, but Your love rises before the sun.” In that, I knew that we would never be without “saint Mark.”
Mark embodied ministry of presence better than anyone I have ever met. It was one of his many gifts. Much of my strength and desire to embody ministry of presence during my time on mission comes from Mark. He was one of those people who supported me tirelessly, who cared deeply about me, and someone who made it their mission to help me get to Heaven one day.
St. Mark fulfilled in his life the call for all Christians: to proclaim to all people the Good News that is the source of our salvation—my “saint Mark” did the same. So on the feast of Saint Mark, I remember that His love “rises before the sun,” I remember to be present to all who I encounter, and I remember my very own “saint Mark.”