Words mean everything and names mean even more. For one rapper from Illinois, his one-word name tells a story. It’s a story that God is still writing. He goes by the name Mandala, and he is turning his rap attention to Christ and the Church.
What is often associated with graphic lyrics full of crime, drugs, and violence, rap is not easily a chosen music genre of faithful Christians. However, Mandala feels God is working to change that through him.
“I heard a psychologist named Jordan Peterson give a lecture about the movie Pinocchio, and in it he talked about something called a mandala. He said the mandala had a deep meaning and represented many things, including the universe and the ‘self’. It didn’t matter to me so much what it represented, what mattered to me is that it had meaning. I thought, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be great if my life had meaning to it, just like a mandala,” he writes on his website.
His name is Dominic Bertino and he was raised a Catholic by his mother. But, the faith did not last in his life and he fell away from the church.
“I would say that the faith wasn’t deeply ingrained in me growing up. I wasn’t really given a deep theology,” he said. “It was just kind of a superficial kind of faith that was promoted and when I went to college I just started listening to different atheistic philosophers and was intrigued by them. I also became obsessed with the idea that I had to be my own man and come up with and inform my own belief system from scratch.”
Mandala said this idea of creating his own belief system caused him to walk away from everything he was taught growing up in the Church. There was a combination of factors that caused him to drift away from Jesus and toward atheistic and agnostic ideas.
“It was a death by 1,000 cuts. Little things happened here and there,” he said.
Struggling to feel his life had meaning and purpose, he began rapping as the persona of the Joker in rap battles. At times, not even sure he believed in God, Mandala said he used the Joker persona and would rap vile and violent lyrics. After accepting his first invitation to a rap battle, he began entering additional rap battles and letting the anger he held inside spill over into his lyrics.
He said everything changed with an invitation his mother extended to him. It was an invitation he saw more as an opportunity as opposed to prayer.
“I was asked to go to adoration by my mom after graduating college. I decided to go with her because I was kind of intrigued by the idea of sitting in silence for an hour. I thought that was a challenging, courageous thing to undertake,” he said. “To be alone with your thoughts for an hour and I had a lot of demons back then. I knew things were going to come up. I didn’t go there with the intention of communicating with God or going to see if God really exists. I didn’t really think that was possible. I didn’t think it was possible to communicate with God at that time. I wasn’t sure if God even existed.”
His time at adoration slowly began changing him. He said it started with him just having a peaceful experience that first hour at adoration. He talked to himself but soon realized there was someone else there he was speaking to and that led to a conversion. “I had come to accept that there was someone else that I was speaking to that was there. It was someone granting that peace that I was experiencing in the chapel, and it wasn’t just my own creation. It wasn’t just me talking to myself in there. It was really something external to myself.”
As he began recognizing the existence of God and began serving Him, Mandala felt he should use rap to help others. Although the Catholic rap label is new, he said he believes there is a place for rap in Catholicism. He grew in his faith and used his musical influence to speak truth through lyrics. He raps about Christian themes, including the Blessed Mother and Pope Francis and believes Catholic rap can help others feeling the same way he did. Just as rap music related to him on his level, he believes Catholic rap relates to others the same way.
“I think God communicates to people in a variety of ways and a lot of creative ways. I know that rap spoke to me growing up in a way that different genres of music didn’t. I had a lot more anger and resentment and the rappers that I would listen to were guys that I felt like I could relate with more than the Christian gospel singers,” he said. “I would encourage an openness to the idea that God communicates to us in all different ways. I’m convinced that God is calling me to express myself through rap. I don’t know where that will go from here.”
His album “American Pope” was written, according to Mandala, to proclaim and tout his faith and the fact he had returned to the Church. It’s “me owning the fact that I’m Catholic.” He says he still attends adoration weekly and has a devotion to the Blessed Mother. “I dedicate this album to Mary.”
Regarding his lyrics, Mandala seems to have a philosophy that no one or nothing in Catholicism is off limits, including the pope, restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass, Bishop Robert Barron, the Blessed Mother, and even Michael Voris. He has plans for new videos, live shows, and new songs. However, Mandala says what ultimately matters is allowing God to write the story.
“I want to surrender myself to God and just let him use me in whatever way he wants to and just continue to make music that reflects my soul,” he said.
You can listen to his songs and follow him on Spotify and YouTube.