'Traditionalist Catholics' Demolish Another Church in Mexico

Jeff M. Sellers | Compass Direct News | Friday, July 27, 2007

'Traditionalist Catholics' Demolish Another Church in Mexico

State battling town bosses in San Juan Chamula; other Christians still without water lines.

LOS ANGELES – Chiapas state officials arrested 14 “traditionalist Catholics” following the destruction on Sunday (July 22) of an evangelical church in a community of San Juan Chamula, near San Cristobal de las Casas, in Mexico’s Chiapas state.

State Public Security officers arrested several of the traditionalist Catholics, who practice a blend of traditional Mayan religion and Roman Catholicism, for tearing down Prince of Peace Pentecostal Church in Nishnamtic, evangelical pastor and attorney Esdras Alonso Gonzalez told Compass.

In retaliation, Nishnamtic village bosses or caciques on Sunday jailed five evangelicals; those officials in turn were arrested early Monday morning and the Christians freed, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Undaunted, according to the attorney general’s office, Nishnamtic traditionalist Catholics on Monday (July 23) then illegally locked up seven evangelical women, including one carrying her 9-month-old baby, in the municipal jail of San Juan Chamula. Authorities in turn rescued the women and infant, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

“The seven women were detained on Monday morning by traditionalist Catholics in response to the rescue operation of the five evangelicals in Nishnamtic,” according to the attorney general’s office. For this reason, it added, the state government arrested the additional village officials.

In all, according to the state attorney general’s office, Public Security officers arrested 14 traditionalist Catholics, including seven Nishnamtic officials.

The Chiapas attorney general’s statement makes no mention of the church demolition, saying only that in coordination with Ministry of Public Security officers it rescued the evangelicals from traditionalist Catholics who had jailed them for “refusing to pay the fees for the patron saint festivals of the town.”

“For this reason,” the statement continues, “the traditionalist Catholic authorities had denied them [the evangelicals] access to potable water and education services.”

Alonso noted, “The government statement doesn’t make any mention of it, but the arrest of the traditionalist Catholic caciques has to do with the destruction of the church. At three in the afternoon they went to destroy the church, and they jailed the brethren until they were rescued.”

The attorney general’s office notes that state officials were able to negotiate peacefully with the indigenous authorities of Nishnamtic for the release of the evangelicals. Those freed were seven women – Paulina Pérez Díaz, Dominga Hernández Patishtán, María Gómez Pérez, Verónica Gómez Ruíz, Verónica Gómez López, Verónica Hernández López, Teresa Hernández Gómez – and the 9-month-old infant, Elías Hernández Gómez.

The five men earlier freed were José Gómez Jiménez, 32; Jerónimo Gómez Jiménez, 40; Mateo Gómez Ruiz, 61; Rosendo Gómez Gómez, 20; and Artemio Gómez Hernández, 27.

Nishnamtic officials jailed were Julio Gómez Hernández, president of the education committee; Salvador Gómez Pérez, second municipal agent; Domingo Gómez Díaz, first municipal agent; Manuel Gómez Pérez, potable water representative; Miguel Hernández Jiménez, of the education committee; and Domingo Gómez Gómez, secretary of the education committee.

Other Nishnamtic traditionalist Catholics arrested, according to the attorney general’s office, were Domingo Pérez Gómez, Andrés Gómez Pérez, Manuel Jiménez Hernández, Agustín Pérez López Mayol, Salvador Pérez Díaz Mayol, Vidal Pérez Gómez Mayol, Manuel Gómez Mayol and Juan Gómez Boch.

Alonso said Sunday’s attack was the second church destroyed by traditionalist Catholics in San Juan Chamula this year; on April 14, they demolished a Pentecostal church in Las Ollas.

Los Pozos Woes

In the village of Los Pozos, also near San Cristobal, state officials are racheting up pressure on traditionalist Catholic caciques who have continued to defy an agreement to stop harassing Christians.

Town officials had signed an agreement on April 23 pledging to reconnect water lines they had cut off from evangelicals, to stop withholding government food aid for children, and to allow outside Christians to visit. All of those provisions continue to be violated, Alonso said.

“They’ve not reconnected the water of the brothers, and a few days ago they didn’t allow a visit from pastors and others that came – they closed off the road,” Alonso said. “They’re not respecting what was signed, but the government is visiting them to speak with them, and they’re speaking more strongly with them.”

Children have continued to go without food aid from the federal SEDESOL program, as the caciques have conditioned distribution upon paying a “fine,” he said.

“There are government officials going out for inspections regarding the federal aid to children – they’re inspecting what’s being distributed,” Alonso said. “Before, the caciques were charging a 300 peso fine. Now the government has sent delegations telling them not to withhold food from these minors.”

The state intervention has cleared the way for representatives of the Christians to begin talks with the town bosses about restoring water lines, he added.

“The government has sent delegations to talk with the local authorities of Los Pozos to tell them to stop doing these things,” he said. “The government has made clear its position that it’s not going to let these things happen.”

The arrest of traditionalist Catholics in Nishnamtic has sent a message to authorities in Los Pozos and to the officials of the Huistan municipality to which it belongs, he added.

“In Huistan, in fact, hearing that Chamula is incarcerating people, they are now afraid,” Alonso said. “Before the law was not being applied, but now with these operations of arresting them, we’re waiting to see how this situation in Los Pozos is going to work out.”

Copyright 2007 Compass Direct News

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