map-mexicoOctober 21, 2016 (Morning Star News)
A Christian family of six and 10 other relatives are facing hunger and illness in Chiapas, Mexico after local officials drove them from their land for non-compliance with a “traditionalist” mix of indigenous pagan and Catholic rituals, according to a Mexico City-based news outlet.

The family patriarch, identified only as Fernando H., put his trust in Christ in 2008, and soon local authorities began devising plans to pressure his family and force them to leave their native village (undisclosed for security reasons) near Las Margaritas, Christian news portal Noticiero Milamex reported.

The family head has steadfastly refused to renounce his faith in Christ, leading to eight years of death threats, incarceration and 32,000 pesos (US$1,725) in fines to free family members from jail, the news service reported, culminating in August when local authorities expelled the family from the village.

“We will never leave the Word of God, because we know a living God,” he told Milamex. “We will continue fighting.”

Having left their farmland and relocated to Las Margaritas, where the extended family is crammed into a small, rented house, they have lost their source of income and have yet to find jobs. The family would like to sell their land but have been offered only 30,000 pesos (US$1,616) for the 22 hectares (about 54 acres).

“Their economic situation is so precarious that they can hardly find food for everyone,” Milamex reported. “One of the children has severe malnutrition and seems to be 2 months old rather than 2 years old. Various family members have serious health problems but no resources to go to a doctor.”

In May local officials arrested the family head’s 22-year-old son, later jailed two other sons ages 18 and 14, and finally also put his wife and youngest son in the primitive, wooden facility, according to Milamex. Even with loans, the patriarch was unable to come up with the 6,000 pesos (US$323) authorities demanded for their release.

“They have seen miracles,” Milamex added. “Officials poured 20 liters of gasoline around the jail. They used up a book of matches trying without success to set them on fire.”

The family members were later released.

Advocacy organizations in Mexico estimate there are hundreds of such cases of persecution of evangelicals. Christian support organization Open Doors notes that “denominational protectionism on the part of Roman Catholicism affects all non-traditional forms of Christianity,” as does organized crime. Drug cartels have particularly targeted “those Christians who actively engage in social transformation and therefore constitute a threat to the hegemony of this engine’s drivers.”

Drug lords have not been ruled out as suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Catholic priests, one in Michoacan state and two in Veracruz state, in September. The Rev. Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen was abducted from his home on Sept. 19, and his body was found on Sept. 25 near Las Guayabas on a remote road between Puruandiro and Zinaparo. He reportedly had five bullet wounds in his stomach.

The bodies of two kidnapped Catholic priests in Veracruz state on the Gulf of Mexico, Alejo Jimenez and Jose Juarez, were found on Sept. 19. They had been kidnapped from their parish church building in Poza Rica. The three deaths brought the number of priests killed in Mexico in the last four years to 15.

Authorities last week arrested two suspects in the murder of the two priests in Veracruz, though prosecutors did not release their identities. Typically drug lords in Mexico have killed Christian leaders for denouncing drug and other crimes, according to a report in The Guardian. By killing priests for carrying out what the clergymen believe is their Christian responsibility, drug lords rid villages of leadership and assert their own authority over territory, one analyst told the newspaper.

State authorities have compounded the suffering of the Christian community. Keen to downplay drug cartel violence in order to preserve Mexico’s tourist image, they have suggested the priests were somehow complicit in their deaths by misbehavior. The Michoacan state governor falsely reported that Lopez had appeared on a hotel surveillance video with a teenage boy, a claim that was quickly debunked. Likewise, investigators in Veracruz falsely claimed that the two slain priests had gone out drinking with those who killed them.

“It’s not possible that in Veracruz, in less than 24 hours, they come to the hasty conclusion that [the priests] were killed for having some drinks and carousing with shadowy characters,” Hugo Valdemar Romero, spokesman for the archdiocese of Mexico City, told The Guardian. “There are local accounts of five people entering the church and violently taking them away … The Michoacan case is even worse. A video is released in which it malevolently and insidiously tries to show that this priest was a pedophile. The governor should publicly apologize.

“What’s happening now is another manifestation of this insecurity that the government hasn’t been able to control and is getting worse by the day.”

Mexico ranked 40th in Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian, having cracked the list at 38 the previous year.

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