In his homily, Bishop Rutilio revisited Cesar Chavez’s journey of faith and his strong voice for the cause of human dignity. Bishop Rutilio recalled how determined Chavez was to put into practice the principles of the social doctrine of the Church and to be in tune with the beatitudes in their peaceful but constant struggle. Under the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Cesar Chavez did not hesitate to be faithful to her inspiration and publicly declare his choice for life and dignity.
Bishop Rutilio stressed that the principles of Cesar Chavez should continue to encourage all political, religious, educational and administrative leaders to seek solutions together. Faith communities must come together and bring their faith to the streets, jobs, factories, schools and entertainment industries, he said. And at the same time, the work and jobs of civic life must be inspired by a genuine spirituality so that they are inspired to create better societies.
At the end of the Mass, the Bishop pronounced a special blessing on the hands of the audience and all those who work the land and transform it into God’s creation. After Mass, the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who was carried by the community of Perris, led a procession to the city center.
The song, “De Colores,” which was once so popular in the marches of Caesar Chavez, was sung to remind all of the rough roads that workers have had to travel to improve their lives and allow them to live together as sons and daughters of God.
Once we arrived at the center, we enjoyed a rich program where, in the name of the Latino Network, Alfredo Figueroa introduced members of the United Farm Workers, the union founded by Chavez, along with the Cesar Chavez Foundation and other workers’ unions.
Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey acknowledged the contribution that Latinos have made to the city, county and country. Former Mayor Ronald Loveridge and City Councilman Andy Melendez rejoiced in remembering Cesar Chavez’s legacy. The president of the Latino Network, Ofelia Valdes-Yeager, gave thanks to many people and organizations that cooperated with this project.
The anticipated presenter was Paul F. Chavez, son of Cesar Chavez, who offered a testament to the values of service and love for the community that always guided his father.
Finally the memorial statue, created by artist Ignacio Gomez, was unveiled. A wave of excitement filled the audience as they stood before the bronze figure of Cesar Chavez, which now serves to remind all who work and struggle that they, as a community, are not alone. Ignacio Gomez’s rendering of Cesar Chavez gifts this community with a heritage and a source of identity for generations to come.
Petra Alexander is director of the Office of Hispanic Affairs in the Diocese of San Bernardino.