KEENE, Calif. (CNS) — California’s Catholic bishops said they were grateful that a national monument was being dedicated to farmworker labor leader Cesar Chavez, who “was profoundly influenced by Catholic social justice teaching.”
Chavez, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union in 1962, “strived to be a good disciple of the Lord Jesus by bringing the kingdom of God to the vineyards, fields and groves of America,” they said in a statement released Oct. 3. The dedication was Oct. 8.
“Seeing the hard plight of migrant laborers, he became a community organizer in 1952, and eventually the founder of the United Farm Workers in 1962,” added the bishops. “Through his influence and dedication, countless farm laborers today have basic protections — from clean drinking water and safe working conditions to minimum wages and access to health care.”
The monument was dedicated in Keene, the birthplace of the UFW. Thousands were present at the dedication, which included an address by President Barack Obama.
With the president were Helen Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s widow; Paul Chavez, his son and president of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation; UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta; and current UFW president Arturo Rodriguez.
Also present at the Oct. 8 dedication were two Hispanic Cabinet secretaries, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as well as U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Obama toured the Chavez Memorial Garden and placed a red rose at the gravesite where Cesar Chavez was laid to rest in 1993.
Obama issued a presidential proclamation establishing what is now known as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, to be maintained by the National Park Service. The property is known as Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz, Spanish for Our Lady Queen of Peace. In the UFW, it was known simply as La Paz.
“At La Paz, the UFW grew and expanded from its early roots as a union for farmworkers to become a national voice for the poor and disenfranchised,” Obama said in the proclamation. “For Cesar Chavez, La Paz also provided the respite he needed to continue serving the farmworker movement. His attachment to La Paz as both a refuge and a place where he engaged in his life’s work grew stronger over the years.”
La Paz now “joins a long list of national monuments stretching from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon,” the president said. “It’s a story of people, of determined, fearless, hopeful people,” like Chavez, he added, “who have always been willing to devote their lives to making this country a little more just, a little more free.”
Chavez’s “faith, his passion for nonviolence rooted in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi, and his inspirational leadership are best reflected in his own eloquent words: ‘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,'” Obama said.
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Contributing to this story was Mark Pattison in Washington.