Ricardo RAMIREZ, C.S.B. Power from the Margins: The Emergence of the Latino in the Church and Society. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016. pp. 202.  ISBN 9781626981935. Reviewed by Robert WRIGHT, O.M.I., Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, TX 78216.


Bishop Ramirez provides a compact yet comprehensive pastoral primer on ministry among Latinos. He draws not only upon his own family background of being raised in a Mexican American faith community, but also from his exceptional experience as a young missionary and scholar in Mexico, one of the visionary leaders of the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, and a local bishop for over three decades along the Southwest border with Mexico, entrusted by his fellow bishops with positions of national and international leadership. Not surprisingly, his lifetime interest and work in religious education and liturgy and popular religiosity gives the basic framework for this book. But also receiving due attention are current areas of special import such as youth, immigrants, and the incarcerated. Bishop Ramirez’s goal is that his readers, Latinos and non-Latinos, come to a deep appreciation of the faith of Latino Catholics, to an understanding of these people’s present reality that even now for many remains at the margins of society and church, and to a realization of the needed responses to that reality.

His reflections begin, as any Latino account must, with family and his own childhood experiences. He explains the strong traditional familial orientation in the culture, but also the major transitions and greatly increasing complexity that Hispanic families are facing due to U.S. societal factors and the mixed reality of long-time citizens and newly arrived immigrants. Three chapters on education address the growing challenges to faith formation in an increasingly secular society that leaves no space (place or time) for religion; general educational challenges among Latinos and innovative responses to those challenges; and ministry among the youth, both U.S.-born and immigrant. In these chapters he points to the need for much better preaching, bilingual fluency by ministers, adult faith programs including retreat movements with better follow-up, stronger early childhood education, better involving of and with “second-generation” teenagers and young adults, much greater presence in digital media – and budgeting to make all this possible.

The following three chapters on civic issues address improving political engagement by Latinos; understanding the causes of immigration into the United States and providing comprehensive immigration reform; and other urgent matters such as hospitality, violence, and incarceration. Among the recommendations in the latter chapter are that parallel worship communities in a parish not continue indefinitely, but rather find ways of bonding as a whole, and that the Catholic Church be much more involved with the incarcerated, their families, and criminal justice reform.

The three chapters on popular religiosity and the liturgy present a description of the various categories of popular religious practices, with particular attention to pilgrimages to shrines and the nine-day pre-Christmas posadas;  the story and meaning of Our Lady of Guadalupe with reflections on Mary in the Scriptures and on Bishop Ramirez’ own sense of vocation; and how worship must be a Christian fiesta (celebration) in the truest and deepest sense in a way that inspires all to missionary discipleship, rather than merely punctiliously observing rubrics or insisting on overly demanding sacramental requirements. In the liturgy chapter, Bishop Ramirez emphasizes the need for the professional training of liturgists in the Latino religious tradition, bemoaning “the enormous gaps that exist in the world of theological academia with regard to the inculturation of liturgy,” particularly Latino liturgy (169). He similarly deplores that “we have far too many in church leadership positions who are intolerant of anyone . . . whose ecclesiology or faith expressions are different from their own” (170).

The concluding chapter reflects on “The Francis Effect on Latinos,” underlining how Pope Francis has given such strong witness to and spoken so strongly about the missionary discipleship advocated in this book.

Personally, I found it interesting that Bishop Ramirez devoted only one non-committal sentence to small Christian communities (108),  that for decades have figured prominently in Latino-inspired U.S. Church pronouncements and plans for Latino ministry. Whereas this approach can do much good where it succeeds, I concur from my own personal experience and observation that it does not seem to be a principal means of evangelization in a culture like that of the United States. Lastly, a couple of typos: “regulate” should be “regularize” (160), and the theological concept of “inculturation” has been incorrectly spell-checked into the sociological “enculturation” wherever it appears.