Valdez family brings home memories, lessons for lifetime

Managing three children under the age of six is a challenge any day, but doing so for a week among crowds of thousands is a gold standard of parenting.

Brandi Valdez took it all in stride — and still managed to get a good view of Pope Francis in Philadelphia on Sept. 27.

Valdez and her husband Gustavo Valdez, director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Charleston, were standing with their two sons and daughter, ages 5, 3, and 1, in a sea of people waiting to see the pontiff’s motorcade pass by.

When it did, she said, there was a “tiny window” between the heads and waving hands of other people. In that window, she saw the Holy Father’s eyes look straight at her and her 1-year-old daughter Bella perched on her shoulders.

“I think Pope Francis has a special gift, because people say even though he is looking at everybody it seems like he is looking just at you, and that is what it felt like,” Mrs. Valdez said. “I started crying. Bella started hopping up and down on my shoulders. His face had a look of great love. To see the vicar of Christ was like Jesus saying ‘I love you’. I love this pope so much and so does my husband and it was so moving to see his eyes.”

Seeing Pope Francis was the high point of a week filled with happiness and spiritual growth, Mrs. Valdez said. Throughout the World Meeting of Families, they attended workshops and speeches together, bonding as a family in a memorable way.

“Usually at conferences it’s just one of us attending, and this was a chance for us all to be together,” she said.

“It was very interesting to be attending talks and conferences and see women caring for their babies, kids playing on the floor, and nobody cares, it doesn’t bother anybody,” Mr. Valdez said. “This was about family and everything was made for families.”

He especially enjoyed sessions by Catherine Wiley on how parents and grandparents could effectively pass the faith on to their children, and another talk on ways families can pray together and build their relationship with God.

“When we get back, we’re going to take one of the suggestions and really work on a devotion to Mary,” he said. “We already like to pray the rosary together.”

Mrs. Valdez was also impressed with the kindness and compassion of people who attended the event. During the week, she learned that her father had an accident and was put in intensive care. She said people attending the conference offered support to her and prayers for her father, which she believes led to his quick recovery and ability to return home.

The kindness also extended to strangers outside the meeting. One day a group of South Carolina pilgrims were walking down the street outside the convention center and encountered a young man who handed them a rosary and asked them to pray for him. Immediately and without question, she said, the group joined hands with the young man, formed a circle and prayed.