Join our mailing list

Members of One Body?

Though it grieves and puzzles people in communities where Catholics and Protestants regard each other as members of Christ's body, tension and persecution mar relationships between Catholics and Protestants in Mexico.

Though it grieves and puzzles people in communities where Catholics and Protestants regard each other as members of Christ's body, tension and persecution mar relationships between Catholics and Protestants in Mexico.

With its long history in Mexico, Catholicism has taken many forms. “The evangelicals don't want to be identified with the Catholics in Mexico because first, the Catholic Church in Mexico has a syncretism with the Indian religions. People just put a Christian or Catholic name on old ideas or rituals,” Rosie Avila says.

Meanwhile, the fast-growing evangelical churches now account for at least 10 percent of people in Mexico. Mariano Avila explains that the term “evangelical” applies to all Protestant non-Catholics.

Catholics don't always understand evangelical Christians in Mexico. “We are the minority, and some people think that we worship Satan, and that we do all sorts of weird stuff,” Rosie says. In Pope John Paul II's frequent visits to Mexico, he urges Catholics to defend their faith against “Protestant sects.”

Though it happened more than 10 years ago, Rosie still shudders about getting her first fax. “We'd received the machine as a gift and were so excited when the first fax started coming in. But when we saw it, we were in shock. It was from Chiapas. An evangelical Indian pastor in Chiapas had been brutally murdered for his faith, and the fax showed photographs of his body,” she says.

Especially in the southwestern state of Chiapas, evangelical Christians are denied access to public hospitals and schools. They face eviction, vandalism, beatings, and even death for not attending Catholic services or participating in festivals they describe as syncretistic. This discrimination and violence continues, according to Compass Direct, a news service about Christians persecuted for their faith.

“People think this persecution happens only among poor or uneducated people. But we experienced it seven years ago in a middle-income neighborhood in suburban Mexico City. Our neighbors were well educated, and nearly all of them were Catholic,” Mariano says.

Only one other home on the street housed evangelical Christians. One Sunday, as that father of five daughters left for church, his neighbors beat him.

The Avilas were treated well during their first four months in the neighborhood. Then neighbor women asked Rosie to take her turn hosting a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The women on that street were used to gathering around the statue and praying the rosary together.

“I told them, ‘I cannot have the Virgin of Guadalupe in my house, because we just worship God. But you are very welcome to bring your Bibles here, so we can pray and have Bible studies together.'

“After that people started parking their cars in front of our garage, so Mariano couldn't get out to go to work. They threw garbage on our front doorstep, in our backyard, and at our dog. When Mariano was gone, I had so much fear even to go out to the market,” Rosie says.

Despite widespread problems, some Mexicans are working together to overcome religious mistrust and hatred. The Avilas, for example, were friends with a priest whose large church was across the street from their small Presbyterian church.

Mariano is a founding member of The Consejo Interreligioso de Mexico (Mexican Interfaith Council), which includes representatives from Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant communities, as well as Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Sufi-Islamic groups.

“The council met at least once a month to promote peace and understanding and reconciliation. We wrote a code of ethics for all the religious groups, and we gave it to the government,” Mariano says. The Mexican Department of the Interior helped reprint and distribute the code in areas of religious intolerance.

Comments

Note that you need a Facebook account in order to add comments.

If you don't see a place above to enter or view comments, it may be due to your browser's security or privacy settings. Please try adjusting your settings or using a different browser.