By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Gustavo Valdez, recently appointed Diocesan Director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, sees the challenges faced by the immigrant community from both a Hispanic and an Anglo perspective.
“I can understand both cultures very well,” he said. “I grew up and spent the first 28 years of my life on the border, between Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. I’m familiar with both sides, their strengths, their weaknesses, their celebrations, their challenges.”
Valdez was raised Catholic in a very devout family. After graduating from the Coahuila branch of the National Institute of Technology with a degree in engineering, he spent a month working with abused children in Nicaragua with the Missionaries of Charity. “That opened my eyes and my heart,” he said. He also spent two years as a diocesan missioner in the desert of northern Mexico.
He moved to Mississippi in 2003, working with immigrant fishermen. Then in 2006, he heard about an opening at the Bishop Helmsing Institute in Kansas City, and applied online. He was hired and moved to Kansas City that same year. For the next five years, he worked on faith formation and catechesis for the immigrant community. He became well acquainted with the parishes and the people of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
When he was appointed Director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, Valdez realized he would have to map out the direction he wanted the ministry to follow. He presented his ideas to Bishop Robert Finn and they were approved.
Under Valdez’ leadership, Hispanic Ministry will use the recommendations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the pastoral letter, Mission and Communion.
“Our work will be through four pillars: Formation, Liturgy, Communion and Mission,” Valdez said. “Each pillar will help the community in specific ways, and when seen all together, will show what needs to be done to help the Hispanic community as a whole.”
The first pillar is Formation. “Formation is helping people understand our Catholic faith,” Valdez said, “and promoting opportunities for better education. Understanding our faith helps people grow in holiness and education helps them become better citizens. Without formation people will repeat the same problems we see them facing today.” There is resistance on both sides, Hispanic and Anglo, to full integration of Hispanics in American culture and society, he added. “The challenge is to break through those barriers. Formation of faith and education is a beginning.”
The second pillar is the Liturgy. Valdez continued his explanation, “People have the chance to worship, share their faith in public and grow in holiness through the sacraments especially the Eucharist, confession and marriage.” Marriage and family are very important to Valdez, who is married. He and his wife will welcome their second child next month.
“We also will promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We want to have priests who understand both cultures, and priests from the immigrant community would be ideal. They would help create one Catholic, universal, culture, not Hispanic Catholic or Anglo Catholic, just Catholic.
The priests and deacons of this diocese have been so supportive. I thank them and ask them to pray for me and this ministry.”
The third pillar is Communion. Valdez said, “Communion is creating opportunities in the wider community for Hispanics and other immigrants to be involved. It’s communicating, and networking within the diocese and outside the diocese, also with Hispanic ministry offices in other dioceses across the country. It’s making connections with parishes and social service organizations that can offer services and resources, connections with attorneys, consuls and embassies for information and services.”
The fourth pillar is Mission, “the way we serve the Hispanic and other immigrant communities in faith,” Valdez said. “The way we teach the faith and help others understand our faith. That is mission.”
Whether seen from a Hispanic or an Anglo perspective doesn’t matter. “It’s a big challenge!” Valdez said. “It’s about serving the Imago Dei, the image of God, since no matter where a person is from originally he or she was created in the image of God.”
He is learning something new each day — new connections, new ideas, new faces in the image of God — as he maps out the goals of the Office of Hispanic Ministry.