Jackie Francois Sings of Faith

Popular worship leader reaches youth through song, including at World Youth Day.

Jackie Francois, 27, lives her dream. From her roots as a youth minister, her career has taken her all over the country as a singer/songwriter, worship leader and speaker. Most recently, the Orange County, Calif., native traveled to Spain to sing for World Youth Day.

What moved you to make the change from youth ministry to your present career as singer/songwriter and speaker?

I still feel like a youth minister who travels around the country, but the change came when Spirit & Song/OCP asked me to be one of their “artists” in 2006. At the time, I was a full-time parish youth minister, so I discerned for six months where God wanted me. I discerned that God was calling me to do full-time itinerant ministry as a speaker and worship leader and knew that he would provide opportunities to serve if that was really what I was called to do. Four years later, I am so grateful I get to travel around the country (and world) doing what I love: proclaiming the Gospel through speaking and music. I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be, which, despite any small sufferings, brings a lot of peace and joy to my heart.

Did you write all the songs for your album Your Kingdom Is Glorious? Where does your inspiration come from?

I wrote every song on Your Kingdom Is Glorious except for the song “Be Forgiven,” which was written by Tom Booth. Growing up, I never knew I could write music. However, when I was 18, I taught myself guitar and fell in love with Christ for the first time; songs just started flowing out of my heart. I never wrote the songs for a purpose and never thought I would have a CD. Thankfully, Tom Booth saw something in me and started mentoring me as a musician and as a worship leader. Besides producing the album, Tom was a huge force in my becoming a Spirit & Song artist and making the album happen.

Do you have a favorite saint?

St. Thérèse of Lisieux has been my favorite saint since I read her autobiography, Story of a Soul. I was immediately drawn to her humility and her faith, despite her young age. She is definitely a prayer warrior for me, since I ask her to pray for me all the time! She’s probably tired of me saying, “St. Thérèse, I need humility! Please pray for me.” And she’s recruited some other saints to pray for me. Knowing her humility, though, she’s making my cacophonous prayers an orchestra to Jesus!

Because you travel a lot, you must have had your share of unique experiences with the people you encounter.

Some of the most moving experiences happen on the airplane, talking with the person I am stuck next to for one-to-six hours. You can imagine the shock when I tell people I am a full-time traveling Catholic speaker and worship leader. When they ask what I speak about, I have no problem joyfully sharing about chastity, my conversion story, being a 27-year old virgin, etc. I have gotten to dispel myths about the Church and share the peace that can really be found with a life in Christ.

What is the message you’re trying to bring to youth — to girls and young women, in particular?

I want youth to know the same thing that St. Paul, St. Augustine, Blessed Pope John Paul II and countless others have preached over the last 2,000 years: The longing we feel in our hearts for something “more” is the longing we have for union with God in heaven, and God alone can satisfy that longing. We don’t get to heaven by being lukewarm, but by being on fire with “the love of God [that] has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). If we want to be saints, we must live and love radically, becoming the men and women of God he has created us to be!

You attended this year’s World Youth Day in Spain this summer as a performer for several events. What were your impressions of the gatherings you performed at, and is there a moment that stands out for you?

There were two moments that stood out as my favorite: one was the Friday catechesis at the Love and Life Center with 12,000 pilgrims, where Curtis Stephan and I sang for worship and then Mass with Archbishop [Timothy] Dolan. Archbishop Dolan hit a homerun with his catechesis, which was relatable, funny, convicting and passionate. This led right to Mass, which was beautifully prayerful. Curtis and I intentionally tried to choose songs that people know well and can easily sing, and my heart felt such joy at hearing thousands of young adults praying these hymns to God. There were moments we stepped back from the microphone, stopped playing our instruments, and just let the people sing. Many people came up and/or wrote me afterwards saying they were moved to tears by how prayerful this Mass was.

My second favorite moment was the papal Stations of the Cross on Friday evening. Every station different people carried the cross — recovered alcoholics, those with physical disabilities, people who have suffered from natural disasters (i.e., Haiti and Japan) — to unite the sufferings of today with the sufferings of Christ. I was moved to tears when pilgrims from Rwanda and Sudan carried the cross and a man began to sing acapella what sounded like a Middle Eastern melody. I am grateful for whoever planned that particular event.

Were you present for the final Mass? The Pope said, “The joy you are seeking has a name, a face — that of Jesus of Nazareth, who waits for you in the Eucharist.” Your thoughts?

I was not at the final Mass, but watched it on TV. (I got to attend the papal Mass last year in Scotland, which was a more intimate 80,000 over the 2 million in Spain, haha!) That quotation hits home for me because my reversion nine years ago was centered around the Eucharist becoming a reality as the most intimate union with God one can achieve while here on earth.

So many Catholics don’t even believe that the Eucharist is actually the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. This is so sad because I see the apathy and lukewarm attitude this brings. If Catholics really knew the beauty of the sacrament of the Eucharist, they would live their lives with passion for the love of God and not fail to spread the Good News to every person they meet. In fact, at a churro/coffee shop in Spain, I got to sit down with a few Protestant friends of mine for two hours and discuss the Church’s teachings regarding the Eucharist, reading especially John 6 and discussing early Church Fathers. They left the conversation grateful, and I could tell the wheels in their heads were turning and the pangs in their hearts were a little uncomfortable.

What will you take from WYD to your meetings with young people?

Catholicism is not a stoic, stale religion with a bunch of rules and laws, but a religion where we tangibly encounter God incarnate. What I saw at WYD was that young people are longing for this encounter. When they do encounter him, they will forsake all the things “of this world” to follow him. I will constantly remind myself of this hunger that we all have in our hearts for truth, beauty and goodness when I speak to young people in the future.

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing young people today, and how do you think parishes, parents, teachers and youth ministers can help them best?

Kids are faced with a relativistic, individualistic and hedonistic culture, where there is no absolute “truth,” very superficial community and intimacy, and hardly any examples of sacrifice and selflessness. The best thing parishes, parents, teachers and youth ministers can do is to be a witness of the Gospel message, which is love. Young people can see right through adults who teach one thing and practice another in their own lives. Only through the authentic witness of joyful, faithful adults will young people see that it is not only possible, but desirable, to live a life in the Holy Spirit.

Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Atchison, Kansas.