MEXICO CITY – About 70 Protestant Christians lived in the village of San Rafael Tlanalapan, Puebla state, until Monday (Sept. 12), when they faced a frightening ultimatum – leave immediately or be “crucified or lynched.”
Traditionalist Catholics in the village, near the municipality of San Martín Texmelucan about 60 miles from Mexico City, reportedly threatened to burn down or otherwise destroy their homes.
The Protestants left.
The traditionalist Catholics, who practice a blend of indigenous and Catholic rituals, reportedly asserted that 20 years ago an assistant village president had vowed that no temple of any non-Catholic faith would ever be permitted in San Rafael Tlanalapan. Protestants in Puebla, Hidalgo, Chiapas and other states sometimes refuse to help pay for and participate in traditionalist Catholic festivals, which often include drunken revelry and what they regard as idolatrous adoration of saints.
In 2006, the Protestants in San Rafael Tlanalapan asked for government help after Catholics led village authorities to cut off their water supply.
Tensions reached a crisis level two weeks ago, when local priest Ascension Benitez Gonzalez reportedly said in a Sept. 4 sermon that his parishioners should pressure the Protestants to leave for good. Although their number has grown to 70, the evangelical Protestants have been allowed no place of worship.
On Sept. 7, the village’s assistant president, Antonio Garcia Ovalle, reportedly met with the Protestants. The evangelicals promised to leave, though the 200 traditionalist Catholics present sought to beat them and expel them right then. According to Puebla online news portal Quince minutes.com, the priest rang the church bells continually during the meeting.
The evangelicals’ departure date was set for Monday (Sept. 12). In a newscast two days later on TV Azteca of Puebla, area traditionalist Catholic Irma Diaz Perez rejoiced, saying, “They will never return, because we have drawn up a document wherein they have no permission to come back now or ever.”
On the same segment, another traditionalist Catholic, Hortencia Minero Garcia, said critics should not finger the priest for the expulsion.
“We are strong Catholics and respect our religion and don’t want anyone to touch our priest, because he has nothing to do with this – it is the people,” Minero Garcia said.
In the city of Puebla, the state capital, Catholic leaders tried to soften prejudices.
“It is necessary to respect the traditions of the towns,” Puebla Archbishop Victor Sanchez Espinosa told the daily La Jornada de Oriente. “The Catholics feel attacked, but we would hope there would be no violence. I invite the community, totally Catholic, and the small Christian community, to prudence, order and respect.”
The Protestants sought refuge in nearby towns, including the municipal center of San Martin Texmelucan, where their churches have become prominent. Others have reportedly fled to a church building in Alto Aposento.
The “Uses and Customs” section of the Mexican constitution grants indigenous communities some autonomy to exercise traditional law, although Protestant attorneys say it is misused to allow local authorities to violate minority communities’ religious freedom. The “Uses and Customs” article is designed to protect indigenous customs from government obliteration, but traditionalist Catholics evoke it to jail or expel those who differ from them, the attorneys say.