Deacon Valentin Saucedo is thoughtfully silent when asked if he recalls the first time he thought of becoming a priest. His three sisters in the room listen quietly.Then Saucedo breaks the ice. “I’ve been crazy since I was little,” he jokes.In fact, the veteran associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Diaconate Formation was blessed, he says, to have grown up surrounded by “profound religiosity” of his mother, Elvira Favela de Saucedo, and his grandmother, Juliana Saucedo, who “frequently narrated” the story of the “Cristiada,” when the Catholic Church in Mexico was persecuted, many “Cristeros” were murdered by the Mexican army, and others sought asylum in the United States and elsewhere.“My mother was like the pastor of the town,” Saucedo says proudly. Today, the 69-year-old deacon places great value on that religiosity, especially at a time when physicians have told him there is nothing left to do medically to eliminate the abdominal cancer from which he suffers.“It’s nothing strange for me that I’m dying,” he says, “because I’ve always known that Christ died and rose again and we all die and rise with him. So while I’m dying, I’m also proclaiming His resurrection, something we always repeat in Mass: ‘We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection.’” In good spiritsOrdained to the diaconate in 1994, Valentin Saucedo is widely respected in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for his long commitment to the formation of Spanish-speaking deacons, as well as for helping pave the way for Hispanic chaplains to serve in the challenging environment of the Twin Towers of Men’s Central Jail in L.A.That has made his illness all the more upsetting to those with whom he has worked over the years. And yet, the deacon himself remains in good humor and spirits, pointing out that when the cancer was detected in April, doctors only gave him two weeks to live.And although his health has weakened in recent months, he still laughs, remains lucid, demonstrates his songwriting skills and even recites one of the many poems he has written throughout the years.Part of his outlook is framed by the fact that he is no stranger to pain and serious illness. Twelve years ago he suffered a stroke that left him bedridden, semi-blind and completely paralyzed from the right side of his body for three months.“This is when I discovered that Christ has powers to heal the paralyzed,” he says.Prayer and supportThe Saucedos, a family of ten, lived in Colonia Minerva, a neighborhood in the northern Mexican state of Durango, where the only priest in the small church of Our Lady of Guadalupe showed up once a year to celebrate the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe.The head of the household, farmworker Isidro Saucedo, was an unbeliever. “He was anti-religion 100 percent,” recalls his son Valentin. “He was a very responsible man, but he wasn’t at the same level as my mother on religious and spiritual matters. But he never opposed that we talk and practice our faith.”When 12-year-old Valentin started talking about entering the seminary, Isidro did object. But with the “strength of prayer” and his mother’s support, the young man pursued his dream.At age 16, Valentin finally entered the minor seminary in Monterrey (Nuevo Leon, Mexico). After four years there, and four more at the Seminary of Durango, he was a year from ordination when he was denied permission to leave to the U.S. to work as a teacher.He left the seminary, and in 1970 he left his home country for the first time. The journey was not easy, something he expresses clearly in his original song “Mexican Exodus”:“That night it was obvious, help came from above from Mary … My prayer merged with a sweet voice … I kept on fighting … God is strong and the pillar of life …”He crossed the Mexico-U.S. border twice. The first time he arrived to work and went back to Mexico; the second time he arrived to stay. He had already married Eva, and together they decided to settle in Los Angeles, where they gave birth and raised three children, Jahel (now 38), Nohee (now 36) and Elhi (now 31).It was not long before Saucedo was forming a Spanish choir at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in Los Angeles. He also started to disengage from what he calls his “pre-Vatican II Catholic traditional roots” and slowly started learning about post-Vatican II theology.At St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Father Bob Bisorno, then pastor, suggested he should enter the diaconate formation --- after learning about Saucedo’s seminary formation in Mexico.After he and Eva completed the five years of formation and he was ordained a deacon, he was offered the chaplaincy at Central Jail. In 1996 he opened the chaplaincy at the Twin Towers.“I am very grateful to Sister Suzanne Jabro [then archdiocesan director of detention ministry] and to Father George Horan [associate director], because they put their trust in me,” he says. A sign to stayThe work was not easy, however, and at some point he even considered leaving the position. He prayed for a sign from God if he should stay or not.And one day, during his first visit with an 18-year-old who had just come into the jail unit, Saucedo’s heart was touched when the teenager shared only negative experiences he had lived with family members.“At his young age the boy had lived horrible experiences,” he remembers. “I just remained silent, listening.”When the boy had finished, the deacon told him they would close the session with the Our Father. As he usually did with other prisoners, he was about to ask him to think of a male figure he loved while he prayed.“But with the stories he had just shared, I couldn’t ask him that,” Saucedo says. “So I just asked if he could think of someone who had never condemned him in his life.”Without hesitation the boy said, “You. You are the first person I know that just listens to me without judging.”And with that, Saucedo stayed as a Twin Towers chaplain for the next four years.Along the way he was offered a teaching position at the Diaconate Formation Office. Two years later he became the associate director, a position he has held for the past 13 years.“He is a noble, simple man who practices what he teaches,” said Deacon Paulino Juarez, Men’s Central Jail chaplain, who was in diaconate formation when he heard of Saucedo’s good reputation as a jail chaplain. “He helped me a lot in my diaconate formation and in prison ministry. He helped me keep a balance between my humanity and my spirituality, and at a pastoral level.” Juarez, a close friend of Saucedo for 17 years now, is also familiar with Saucedo’s gifts as a songwriter and dancer. Last February the group of deacons soon to be ordained hosted a dinner for him. At the end Saucedo stole the show by dancing mambo to the delight of all attending. And as if he knew about the diagnosis he would receive a couple of months later, Juarez says he told everyone at the dinner, “I am ready to go.”A fundraising effort to assist Deacon Saucedo and his family with medical expenses may be found at{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0705/valentin/{/gallery}