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April 23 — Cesar Chavez

Today’s Bible reading

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled. — Matthew 5:3-6

cesar_chavez

More thoughts for meditation about Cesar Chavez

Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Arizona. At 35 years old, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the United Farm Workers; UFW),

He employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers. As a labor leader, Chavez led marches, called for boycotts and went on several hunger strikes. It is believed that Chavez’s hunger strikes contributed to his death on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona.

Chavez dedicated his life to improving the treatment, pay and working conditions for farm workers. He knew all too well the hardships farm workers faced. When he was young, Chavez and his family toiled in the fields as migrant farm workers.

After working as a community and labor organizer in the 1950s, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. This union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California in 1965. A year later, the two unions merged, and the resulting union was renamed the United Farm Workers in 1972. In early 1968, Chavez called for a national boycott of California table grape growers. Chavez’s battle with the grape growers for improved compensation and labor conditions would last for years. At the end, Chavez and his union won several victories for the workers when many growers signed contracts with the union. He faced more challenges through the years from other growers and the Teamsters Union. All the while, he continued to oversee the union and work to advance his cause. As a labor leader, Chavez employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farm workers: marches, boycotts and his notorious fasts. He also brought the national awareness to the dangers of pesticides to workers’ health. His dedication to his work earned him numerous friends and supporters, including Robert Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

In a speech entitled Jesus’s Friendship Chavez asserts that “the love for justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being but it is also the most true to our nature.” In that same speech he goes on to say “I have met many, many farm workers and friends who love justice and who are willing to sacrifice for what is right. They have a quality about them that reminds me of the beatitudes. They are living examples that Jesus’ promise is true: they have been hungry and thirsty for righteousness and they have been satisfied.”

About his fasts Chavez wrote, “a fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes…I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice.”

Chavez encourages us in this work saying “it is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”

Cesar Chavez quotes:
  • What do we want the church to do? We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice and for love of brother and sister. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.
  • We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children. People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice. But if you give yourself totally to the non-violence struggle for peace and justice you also find that people give you their hearts and you will never go hungry and never be alone. And in giving of yourself you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love.
  • Every time we sit at a table at night or in the morning to enjoy the fruits and grain and vegetables from our good earth, remember that they come from the work of men and women and children who have been exploited for generations…
  • When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.
  • We shall strike. We shall organize boycotts. We shall demonstrate and have political campaigns. We shall pursue the revolution we have proposed. We are sons and daughters of the farm workers’ revolution, a revolution of the poor seeking bread and justice.
  • Non violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak…Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.
  • We’re going to pray a lot and picket a lot.
  • Jesus’ life and words are a challenge at the same time that they are Good News. They are a challenge to those of us who are poor and oppressed. By His life He is calling us to give ourselves to other, to sacrifice for those who suffer, to share our lives with our brothers and sisters who are also oppressed. He is calling us to ‘hunger and thirst after justice’ in the same way that we hunger and thirst after food and water: that is, by putting our yearning into practice.
  • It is clearly evident that our path travels through a valley of tears well known to all farm workers, because in all valleys the way of the farm workers has been one of sacrifice for generations. Our sweat and our blood have fallen on this land to make other men rich. This pilgrimage is a witness to the suffering we have seen for generations.

More on Cesar Chavez

United Farm Workers Biography [link]

Suggestions for action

Pray the Cesar Chavez prayer:

Free me to pray for others,
for You are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my life
so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others
for in service there is true life.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow,
so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Help us love even those who hate us
so we can change the world. Amen.