Stephen ANDES and Julia Young, eds.  Local Church Global Church. Catholic Activism in Latin America from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II. The Catholic University Press of America. 2016.  p.p. 353.  ISBN  9780813227917. Reviewed by Daniel H. LEVINE, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI 48109-1045.


Movements of thought and action rarely spring up overnight. There is always a pre history that leaves an impact, even if it is not immediately visible. This volume uncovers the pre history of much contemporary Catholic social activism in Latin America in a series of movements and initiatives in the first half of the twentieth century. The authors also make an argument for how these earlier experiences influenced what was to come with the inspiration of Vatican II,  Medellin and liberation theology. The argument is persuasive and the cumulative effect of the evidence is compelling.

The volume is divided into four  broad areas: two general  essays on transnational influences on Latin American movements, four studies of Catholic activism during and following the anticlerical Mexican Revolution, two chapters on  Catholic university student movements (Mexico and Brazil) and three chapters on specific movements that in the view of the authors set in place a theoretical and organizational basis for Catholic social movements that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s.

The argument about transnational influences is straightforward. The editors and authors want to move beyond the common focus on post-1965 activism in Latin American Catholicism.  They document influences   ranging from direct Vatican initiatives (in mediating the end of the Cristero wars in Mexico) to the promotion of Catholic Action movements (mobilizing students, workers, professionals into organizations bound to the church). There were also important initiatives at other levels, including the spread of cooperatives as a model of organization (Chapter 9,  Catherine LeGrand, "The Anigonish Movement of Canada and Latin America")  The flow of ideas and influence also originated from the South, as with the Colombian radio schools (Chapter 10,  Mary Roldan, "Popular Cultural Action, Catholic Transnationalism, and Development in Colombia before Vatican II which grew from a local initiative into a major educational and social force in Colombia with offshoots in other regions.) Another example is the strong lobbying of American and European Catholics in support of Mexican Catholics subject to anti clerical persecution during the early years of the Revolution and the Cristero war (Chapter 6 Stephen Andes,   "The Transnational Life of Sofia del Valle.") 

The empirical studies are of considerable historical interest. The authors shed light on a vigorous set of individuals groups and initiatives that had an impact in their countries. Some countries get more attention than others (for example, Mexico) and some like Peru, Chile, or Argentina, are notable for their absence. The origins of Christian Democracy can also be found in this period, although they do not get much systematic attention. For the most part, the authors leave the story in the late 1950s. This is a loss because one of the issues of the period is precisely what happens to the energies mobilized in Catholic Action and related movements. Many divided on political grounds, and evolved as a vital source of both right and left wing movements of Catholic inspiration in subsequent decades. Others simply collapsed as members chafed under the tight ecclesiastical control of "clerical advisers" that was a core part of the traditional Catholic Action model. This original Catholic Action model, designed to mobilize groups while shielding them from leftist or liberal influences, lost its ability to convince and compel action, particularly as politics became more polarized and choices more stark. This dynamic is particularly evident in university student movements, but holds as well for Catholic trade unions and professional organizations. So many groups and organizations are mentioned, and there are so many acronyms, that a Glossary would have been helpful to the reader. There is an extensive and useful bibliography of original and secondary sources.

In sum, this is a book that rewards reading. Both serious scholars and students will benefit from engaging the rich history documented here.