The trouble with César Chavez

The following comes from an April 18 story on Catholic News Agency.

The late labor activist César Chávez offers Catholics a model for faithful and effective civic engagement, according to a professor of history at Christendom College.

In his April 16 essay for Crisis magazine, “The Passion of César Chávez,” Dr. Christopher Shannon claims that the United Farm Workers leader was “the last Catholic in America” to achieve a “cultural/political synthesis” that brought the Church’s social teaching into the public square. 

The union organizer, Shannon says, contributed to the development of “an authentic Catholic politics,” because of his ability “to speak a common language with non-Catholics” while trying to “lead them … to a fuller understanding of a distinctly Catholic position open to people of good will.”

While Chávez’s birthday on March 31 is a civic holiday in some states, he is also controversial in some quarters of the labor movement.

This discomfort over Chávez’s legacy, Shannon notes, is partly due to the Catholic activist’s decision to bring his faith to bear in disputes over issues like wages and working conditions.

“As a Catholic school boy in the 1970s, I was taught to see Chávez as a kind of Catholic Martin Luther King, a great national figure that we could call our own,” he recalls.
But according to the Christendom College professor, even “self-styled ‘progressive’ Catholics” have largely “forgotten” Chávez – preferring “issues of race, gender and sexuality” to his struggle on behalf of farm workers, which drew heavily from Catholic social teaching.

“The secular Left, in turn,” he writes, “has long had trouble with Chávez precisely because he was an orthodox Catholic and refused to allow his movement to be co-opted by Marxist ideology or the neo-pagan identity politics of the Chicano movement.”

In the Crisis essay, Shannon details the ways in which Chávez used Catholic ideas and practices – such as pilgrimages, fasts, and Marian devotion – to focus the nation’s attention on concerns that were not “sectarian,” but universal.

Shannon notes that “while speaking for a largely Mexican Catholic constituency,” the union leader “was also trying to speak to a broader American public.”

Shannon’s essay can be read in full Here.



Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:19 AM By JLS
I thought Chavez was a Marxist. I never read anything Catholic about him. I’m not disputing what this professor says, but if he is correct, then why was the information blocked out? I attended a Univ of CA campus in those days, and was tuned into the various social movements … nobody I knew ever said anything about the farm labor movement and Catholicism … why not?

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 3:31 AM By Father Karl
Just like Martin Luther, who originally had a few good ideas to clean up the Church, Chavez quickly became radical, and his ideas spread like wildfire. The mess and disorder these two preached have brought nothing but disaster. Chavez’s movement HAS been adopted by Marxist idelogy and theology, and HAS been taken over by the totally pagan Chicano movement. The amnisty for illegals is one of the dogmas preached by these radicals, and unfortunately many bishops and priests have swallowed thhis poisoned pill.

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 4:37 AM By Angelo
Because of calumnies Cesar Chavez has been greatly misunderstood by many. It cannot be denied that he being Hispanic did’nt and does’nt go too well with some. Chavez drew up his battle plan by carefully studying the Encyclicals and Papal Documents starting with Pope Leo Xlll. He was devoted to our Lady especialy through her Rosary. He made it a priority to always have Mass said at his gatherings for the people as he was a man of prayer. He was against violence, even after one of his sons was murdered while peacefully protesting injustice. He was thought to be wasting his time by demanding justice for people considered unimportant by others. But Cesar Chavez knew God’s will for him and he was faithful in carrying it out. Requiescat In Pace! Et Lux Perpetua Dona Eis! Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 5:22 AM By JMJ
It is sad to say that my knowledge of Mr. Chavez is mostly from the ‘news’ media, which didn’t understand just what he was about and as a result, gave him ‘poor’ press. If our so-called ‘catholic’ politicians were like him, we wouldn’t be in such a turmoil in this country. The devil is alive and even though his time is over, he is doing everything that he can to destroy God’s Children and His Creation. +JMJ+

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:31 AM By Sue in soCal
Not to rain on this professor’s parade, I happen to know people who dealt with Chavez on different levels and different situations. One of them is the deacon at our parish who negotiated contracts for one of the ranches. He does not have such a good impression of Chavez. Perhaps this professor should interview some of these people to get a more balanced perspective.

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:19 AM By Abeca Christian
Good to know. I never knew this about this man. I actually had mixed feelings about him. This may help clear any misunderstandings that I may have had.

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:19 AM By Brian S.
Great article – thanks for bringing it forward, CalCatholic. How ironic, however that both secular Leftists and proudly Orthodox (including some regular posters to this paper) have discomfort with Chavez for exactly the same reason – because he brought his faith to bear over wages and working conditions.

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:25 AM By JOHN
Now that Chavez’s closest ally, Dolores Huerta, has become the Latina poster girl for the Left, most importnatly, for the abortion industry, the so-called Catholic legacy of Chavez is shot to hell.

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:35 AM By Dana
I am reminded of a recent review of Billy Budd by Herman Melville in April’s New Oxford Rev. how truth was manipulated and the guilty evil person becomes the ‘righteous victim’ of the truly good person, who is twisted into the villain. I have no idea of the truth of Chavez, though I remember at the time thinking he was a leftist agitator as he was surrounded by such types. The cliche ‘we are judged by the company we keep’ comes to mind. Jesus did eat in the homes of tax gatherers etc. but they were changed by his entry into their lives…they didn’t stay sinners wallowing in their sinful behaviors. Were any of the followers of Chavez changed to a Catholic perspective? I have no idea. What John says certainly doesn’t support that, but indeed, the opposite.

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:51 AM By Paul
I was classmate to priests who worked for Chavez. Like Jesus, he was on the “wrong” side of the argument. I am anti-union, but this was the only way he could bring about relief fort the poor. My classmates’ narrative supports the opinion stated here. Chavez will forever be a polarizing figure. Many saints are.