We have recently commemorated two heroes of our country who, in my opinion, are saints: Cesar Chávez (1927-1993) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). 

March 31, in addition to being Easter Sunday, was the anniversary of the birth of Cesar Chávez and April 4 was the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Both were deeply religious men; their strength and convictions came from their faith. 

Father Jose Rubio

Cesar Chávez was greatly influenced by Catholic social teaching to which he was introduced by Fr. Don McDonnell at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San José. Martin Luther King was, of course, a Baptist pastor. Both were also influenced by the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Jainism. 

Cesar Chávez came to South County on several occasions to talk with farmworkers when he was organizing the union. In the early 1980s, I was involved in organizing a Chicano Commencement for Latino Students at Gilroy High School. It was an opportunity to celebrate the graduation with a Latino flair, including the music and the food. It was held in the gym at St. Mary Church, and Cesar Chávez was the commencement speaker. 

I feel privileged to have known him. I participated in several marches with him, including a four-day march in 1975 from San Francisco to Modesto. I was present when he ended a fast with communion at a Mass at which Ethel Kennedy was present. 

He opposed the war in Vietnam and called his headquarters, La Paz. The recent events in Half Moon Bay and Pajaro Valley, as well as in Ukraine and Gaza tell us that his work is not yet done. 

Martin Luther King, Jr’s hallmark was the use of non-violent mass demonstrations against racism and discrimination, most notably in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama and in Chicago. 

Like Cesar Chávez, he was supported by Catholic priests, pastors of other Protestant denominations and rabbis. He was not only concerned about racism and discrimination in this country, but he was also concerned with the economic empowerment of the poor. 

And, like Cesar Chávez, he was opposed to the war in Vietnam. Recent events like the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the current wars, tell us that his work is not yet done. 

Both were apostles of non-violence and advocates of peace with justice. There is so much violence today. There is violence in our country, so many shootings. And there is so much violence in our world: Haiti, Sudan and, of course, Ukraine and Gaza. 

The message and witness of Cesar Chávez and Martin Luther King, Jr. still have much to say to us today. They challenge us to oppose violence and injustice and to work for peace: peace in that land that three faiths call “Holy,” peace in Ukraine, peace in our country, peace in our homes and in our hearts, peace with justice.  

Father Jose Rubio is the Retired in Residence pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Gilroy. He is one of the original members of the Interfaith Clergy Alliance of South County. Father Jose can be reached at [email protected].

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