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Cesar Chavez: A Catholic Model for Action

Cesar Chavez with religious social activist CS King and Dorothy Day at prayer.
Cesar Chavez with religious social activist CS King and Dorothy Day at prayer.
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The connection between the Catholic community and Cesar Chavez is a natural one to make. The most obvious connection is that Chavez was himself a devout Catholic, and as such often relied on his family's devotional practices and connection with his broader Catholic faith community to support and inform him as he fought for the rights and dignity of farm workers. Secondly, his faith was not relegated to the physical confines or pious practices of the church building, but was instead exercised and brought into the conversations and struggles of the public space, of the broader community, even to the degree of connecting with the moral conscience of the nation. His ability and strength to engage the challenges of faith and questions of justice with the social, economic and political life of the broader community serves as a challenging invitation to today’s Catholics.

Chavez's fight on behalf of farm workers was harmonious with the Social Teaching of the Church. The first major document of the Church's teaching was Rerum Novarum(The Conditions of Labour), in which Pope Leo XIII expressed the right of workers to organize, while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of dialogue and discourse. These concerns, among others, continue to be expressed by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops ("Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.") Chavez's legacy is a concrete expression of his faith community’s moral conviction on both the dignity of workers and the value of work. Though Chavez's concerns only expressed one dimension of Catholic Social Teachings, in his person, people of faith find a challenging invitation to likewise step into the public square to pray about and struggle against assaults on the dignity and freedoms of human life, and the gift of God's creation often addressed in the social and moral teachings of the Church.

In his actions, Cesar Chavez connected the social teachings found in his faith community with the realities of injustice he witnessed in the lives of the farm workers. He serves as a model for Catholics to both reflect upon and act on the rich social teachings of the Catholic community and to thus find means of creatively and lovingly engaging with our local communities and national leaders.

Beginning this weekend, three events may help us explore how the Catholic community may, like Cesar Chavez, become a voice for justice.

This Sunday, March 18 (12:30 PM) members of the Catholic community will be gathering at Our Lady of Angeles Cathedralto remember the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez. The 12th annual liturgical celebration will be lead by Archbishop Jose Gomez. All members of the greater Los Angeles area are invited to attend.

Wednesday, March 21 (7 PM) the Los Angeles Archdiocese Office of Justice and Peacewill be holding a gathering addressing the issue of how individuals may facilitate the existence of a Catholic voice/advocacy in the life of the broader community.

An invitation is extended to participate in the annual Catholic Advocacy Day event in Sacramento on April 24, 2012. Those interested need to attend a training session on April 12, 2012.

If you would like to participate in either the March 21 advocacy gathering and/or Catholic Advocacy Day, please contact Sr. Gail Young at the Office of Justice and Peace ( for information and to RSVP.

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