BALTIMORE –– Learning to accept one’s own background and culture is an important first step in evangelization, said Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., Nov. 12, upon receiving an award from the Mexican American Catholic College for his dedication to evangelization in the Latino community.

At a reception during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Bishop Ramirez received the college’s San Juan Diego Leadership Award, for “answering the call of Our Lady of Guadalupe to ‘go and put forth all your effort,’ to build a temple of multicultural unity through Jesus Christ,” as the school’s press release put it.

In accepting the award, Bishop Ramirez lauded the school, which primarily trains people for Catholic ministry, as a crossroads for people from around the world.

He said that it came as a surprise to him when he found himself learning about his cultural roots through his involvement at the Catholic college in San Antonio. “That was a moment of grace,” he said.

A Texas native ordained a Basilian priest in the Archdiocese of Houston in 1966, Bishop Ramirez served as executive vice president of the school, then called the Mexican American Cultural Center, from 1976 to 1981. In that capacity, he first became involved in the first and second “Encuentros,” large gatherings of Latinos involved in Spanish language ministry.

Arturo Chavez, president of the college, said Bishop Ramirez is a leader who is very outspoken, and prophetic in what he says.

Chavez said in the press release that particularly when Hispanic ministry was first being developed in the United States, “we needed leaders like him; leaders who would challenge the status quo and ask the tough questions: Why are Hispanics not included in leadership formation programs? Why is Mass not celebrated in Spanish?”

The prize itself is a small crystal statue of a soaring eagle, chosen because St. Juan Diego’s name in Nahuatl, his native language, means “he who soars like the eagle.”