The life story of Mark the Evangelist starts in North Africa, in Cyrene, an ancient Greek town that had been taken over by the Romans. In modern times, this is what we know as Libya.
HIs father, Aristobulus, was Greek, while his mother, Miriam, was Jewish. They were well off and his father was also involved in politics at a high level. They had settled in Cyrene and had one son whom they called Jochanan or John – a popular Jewish name, and Marcus – a popular Greek name. The people of Cyrene often rebelled against Roman rule. As a result there was a steady flow of people moving out of Cyrene to avoid a turbulent life.
The parents of John Mark also decided to move out of Cyrene, and move to Miriam’s home country – Israel, settling in Cana, in Galilee near Nazareth but with time they had another house in Jerusalem. About this time Mark’s father died and Mark together with his mother spent more time in their Jerusalem house. It is believed that it was at this house that Jesus had His Last Supper and where the the Apostles gathered after the Resurrection.
It is only in the Gospel of Mark that there is a mention of a young man who was present at Gethsemani. It is believed that this young man who escaped the soldiers at the arrest of Jesus, was Mark, who together with his mother had accepted the Word of God from Jesus Christ.
Mark accompanied his cousin Barnabas on the first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. But at one point, Mark left them and returned home. Mark and Barnabas did not accompany Paul on his second missionary journey, but went to evangelize on their own. However, later on, Paul, in his letter to Timothy, spoke highly of Mark, asking him to bring Mark with him to Rome stating “he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
Mark also had a close relationship with Peter who, in one of his letters, referred to him as “his son.” It is believed that Peter relied on Mark as his interpreter, as he was very literate. After the martyrdom of Peter, probably on Peter’s request, Mark went to North Africa to evangelize there. So although Mark was not one of the twelve Apostles, he formed part of the foundation of the earliest Christian Community. In fact, he founded the Church in Alexandria where he became Bishop.
The second Gospel in the Bible is attributed to Mark, although it is believed that it was the first gospel written, while its contents could possibly be based on Peter’s sermons. It was addressed to the Gentile converts, proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. For a number of years, Mark preached the Good News and worked miracles, so that many people turned to the Christian Faith. This angered the unbelievers who captured him and dragged him through the streets until he died, a martyr.
The symbol of Mark’s Gospel is a lion with wings because it starts with the narrative of John the Baptist as “ a voice crying in the wilderness “ being compared to the roaring of a lion.