HOME PRESIDENT THE US CONSTITUTION ARTICLE CORNER
"The Mexican-American and
place to begin is with our own experience with the Church in the strike that has
gone on for thirty-one months in
Church we are talking about is a tremendously powerful institution in our
society, and in the world. That Church is one form of the Presence of God on
Earth, and so naturally it is powerful. It is powerful by definition. It is a
powerful moral and spiritual force which cannot be ignored by any movement.
Furthermore, it is an organization with tremendous wealth. Since the Church is
to be servant to the poor, it is our fault if that wealth is not channeled to
help the poor in our world. In a small way we have been able, in the
years ago, when some of us were working with the Community Service Organization,
we began to realize the powerful effect which the Church can have on the
conscience of the opposition. In scattered instances, in
about that same time, we began to run into the California Migrant Ministry in
the camps and field. They were about the only ones there, and a lot of us were
very suspicious, since we were Catholics and they were Protestants. However,
they had developed a very clear conception of the Church. It was called to
serve, to be at the mercy of the poor, and not to try to use them. After a while
this made a lot of sense to us, and we began to find ourselves working side by
side with them. In fact, it forced us to raise the question why our Church was not doing the same.
would ask, why do the Protestants come out here and help the people, demand
nothing, and give all their time to serving farm workers, while our own parish
priests stay in their churches, where only a few people come, and usually feel
uncomfortable? It was not until some of us moved to
the strike started in 1965, most of our friends forsook us for a while. They
ran- or were just too busy to help. But the California Migrant Ministry held a
meeting with its staff and decided that the strike was a matter of life or death
for farm workers everywhere, and that even if it meant the end of the Migrant
Ministry they would turn over their resources to the strikers. The political
pressure on the Protestant Churches was tremendous and the Migrant Ministry lost
a lot of money. But they stuck it out, and they began to point the way to the
rest of the Church. In fact, when 30 of the strikers were arrested for shouting Huelga,
11 ministers went to jail with them. They were in
the workers began to raise the question: why ministers? Why not priests? What
does the Bishop say? But the Bishop said nothing. But slowly the pressure of the
people grew and grew, until finally we have in
outside of the local diocese, the pressure built up on growers to negotiate was
tremendous. Though we were not allowed to have our own priest, the power of the
ecumenical body of the Church was tremendous. The work of the Church, for
example, in the Schenley, Di Giorgio, Perelly-Minetti strikes was fantastic.
They applied pressure- and they mediated. When poor people get involved in a
long conflict, such as a strike, or a civil rights drive, and the pressure
increases each day, there is a deep need for spiritual advice. Without it we see
families crumble, leadership weaken, and hard workers grow tired. And in such a
situation the spiritual advice must be given by a friend, not by the opposition.
What sense does it make to go to Mass on Sunday and reach out for spiritual
help, and instead get sermons about the wickedness of your cause? That only
drives one to question and to despair.
leadership of the Mexican-American Community must admit that we have fallen far
short in our task of helping provide spiritual guidance for our people. We may
say, I donít feel any such need. I can get along. But that is a poor excuse
for not helping provide such help for others. For we can also say, I donít
need any welfare help. I can take care of my own problems But we are all willing
to fight like hell for welfare aid for those who truly need it, who would starve
without it. Likewise we may have gotten an education and not care about
scholarship money for ourselves, or our children. But we would, we should, fight
like hell to see to it that our state provides aid for any child needing it so
that he can get the education he desires.
we can say we don't need the Church. That is our business. But there are
hundreds of thousands of our people who desperately need some help from that
powerful institution, the Church, and we are foolish not to help them get it.
For example, the Catholic Charities agencies of the Catholic Church has millions
of dollars earmarked for the poor. But often the money is spent for food baskets
for the needy instead of for effective action to eradicate the causes of
poverty. The men and women who administer this money sincerely want to help
their brothers. It should be our duty to help direct the attention to the basic
needs of the Mexican-Americans in our society... needs which cannot be satisfied
with baskets of food, but rather with effective organizing at the grass roots
I am calling for Mexican-American groups to stop ignoring this source of power.
It is not just our right to appeal to the Church to use its power effectively
for the poor, it is our duty to do so. It should be as natural as appealing to
government... and we do that often enough.
we should be prepared to come to the defense of that priest, rabbi, minister, or
layman of the Church, who out of commitment to truth and justice gets into a
tight place with his pastor or bishop. It behooves us to stand with that man and
help him see his trial through. It is our duty to see to it that his rights of
conscience are respected and that no bishop, pastor or other higher body takes
that God-given, human right away.
in a nutshell, what do we want the Church to do? We donít ask for more
cathedrals. We donít ask for bigger churches of fine gifts. 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. We
donít ask for words. We ask for deeds. We donít ask for paternalism. We ask
Cesar E. Chavez.
Presented to a meeting on
The Mexican-American and the church.
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