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Cesar Chavez: other words for saintliness.

We join the millions nationwide in mourning the loss of Cesar Chavez. We also join them in offering our condolences and prayers to his family.

Saints come in many stripes but often share two characteristics. They live simply and they make us uneasy. Chavez did both.

It has been noted Chavez dressed simply throughout his quarter century of public Christian witness, a witness to the needs of the poor, especially the poor migrant workers of the nation. He never forgot his roots - and his deeds matched his words. Such people, we say, live with integrity. Chavez was one of them.

He challenged us, never stopped demanding of us - whether we were grape growers or grape eaters - to make room for the needs of the grape pickers. Many of us tried to remember those needs; we joined the boycott, but our minds and memories at times wandered. After all, there are so many concerns, so many needy to remember.

Chavez remained steadfast. He was a union leader who remained one of the people. He did not forget. And so he gave voice to the voiceless, demanding their recognition, their place at the human table. He cried out for justice.

He was unique and played a special role in U.S. Hispanic history. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he gave the flowering Chicano movement a visible national leader. As Rudolfo Acuna notes in Occupied America, A History of Chicanos, Chavez was the only Mexican-American to be so recognized by both the civil rights and antiwar movements. He and his farm workers were also supported by both mainstream Mexican-American organizations and political progressives.

Much can be and will be said of this man, less threatening in death. Those who knew him best say there was something else about him, something special about the person who seemed to pack in two workdays between each setting sun. He lived quietly, peacefully and consistently with the Spirit.

His life was marked by a simple and profound spirituality. It guided his being and was as unassumming as it was all-present.

Labor rallies, for example, began with the celebration of Mass, and prayers to Our Lady were common. Chavez knew who he was. He also knew and understood the deepest longings, the most profound hopes, of those on whose behalf he labored.

He was fortunate to live a purposeful live: "When we are really honest with ourselves," he once told his friend Fr. Victor Salandini, "we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.

"I am convinced that the truest act of courage ... is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice." Cesar Chaves, nonviolent advocate of the poor, did just that until his last breath. That is fidelity; that is saintliness.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:May 7, 1993
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