COLUMBIA—Gustavo Valdez hopes his role as the new director of Hispanic ministry helps more people become fully involved in the Church’s mission of bringing souls to Christ.
Valdez, who started in June, is based in Columbia. He is the second of four children in a family from Piedras Negras, a border town in Coahuila, Mexico.
Valdez earned a degree in computer engineering and was working at a Mexican company in the late ’90s when he experienced a conversion that changed his life.
“I had always been Catholic, but after that experience, I made a decision to become a missionary with the Church, to spread the Gospel,” he said.
Valdez did mission work in northern Mexico and then served with the Hispanic community in Biloxi, Miss. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005, he briefly returned to Mexico where he started a business selling tuxedos.
He reentered the U.S. in 2006 to teach theology at the Bishop Helmsing Institute in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, where he later became director of Hispanic ministry.
While there, he met his future wife Brandi Miller. They were married in 2009 and have two sons, Gustavo, 3, and Francisco, 1.
In 2011, Valdez completed a master’s degree in theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Earlier this year, he started work on a doctorate in ministry with a concentration in catechesis at the Catholic University of America.
Father Teofilo Trujillo, vicar of Hispanic ministry, asked Valdez to move to South Carolina. Deciding to relocate took a lot of prayer and consideration, he said.
“Being so many miles away from my wife’s home state was a huge decision, so we tried to see what God wanted us to do,” he said. “We decided this is a mission diocese and God wanted us to work for the church. So far, coming here has been a wonderful experience.
There are very good priests in this diocese who are very committed and work very hard, and everyone here has been very welcoming to us.”
Valdez said his first goal is to form a pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry. In early September, he and Father Trujillo held the first in a series of meetings with priests who work with the Hispanic community to learn about their needs and concerns. The pastoral plan will eventually include guidelines on how to allocate staff and resources to best help Hispanics around the state.
“There’s a huge need to work together because the diocese is very extensive and we all need to be on the same page,” he said.
Hispanic Catholics face many challenges, he said, including language and cultural differences, and dealing with immigration issues. Valdez added that there is a need for more spiritual formation and catechesis, and said he would like to increase the community’s presence in print, on social media, and on Catholic radio.
“The goal is for everyone to learn to respect each other’s culture, to accept each other and love each other,” he said. “We are all Catholics looking for the same goal — salvation.”
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