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Sex crime case renews tension in Mexico between Catholics and evangelical church

Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- The women kneel on the cool marble, their heads draped by shawls bearing the initials NJG. Their hymnals are inscribed with the letters, as is the soaring temple that serves as the headquarters of La Luz del Mundo.

In homes and businesses, along streets with names such as Nazareth, Jerusalem and Jericho, the face of "the apostle" -- Naason Joaquin Garcia -- beams from gilded frames. The faithful sing songs about him, one after another.

"Hermoso Naason, tu iglesia, tu pueblo te ama," a choir of eight men crooned during a recent evening worship. "Naason, your church, your town loves you."

Guadalajara -- the land of tequila and mariachi -- long has been a bastion of Catholicism. For nearly 100 years, it also has been the cradle of the largest evangelical church in Mexico.

The church dominates life in this Guadalajara neighborhood, a kind of Mexican version of Pleasantville, the fictional, wholesome Midwestern town. Markets don't sell cigarettes or alcohol, there is no graffiti marking the walls. There's a calm far removed from this city's buzzy din.

Along Hermosa Provincia's streets, which all converge toward the soaring wedding cakelike church, cars have stickers that read NJG. A store along Dr. Samuel Joaquin Flores road sells bags, keychains and pins with Garcia's initials, as well as $40 framed photos of the apostle.

 

Outside, among the nonbelievers, generations of questions and myths have swirled around Garcia and the two apostles before him -- his father and grandfather.

They gossip about what it means if an apostle dreams of you and spread rumors that they are allowed to sleep with a woman before she marries her husband. Parishioners, familiar by now with the stories, call these "campaigns of disinformation" and blame long-running tensions with Catholics.

The rumors only strengthened after Garcia's arrest in June in Los Angeles on charges of human trafficking, rape and child pornography. Los Angeles County prosecutors, who currently are poring over evidence to build their case, are holding Garcia in lieu of an unprecedented bail of $50 million.

Since his arrest, parishioners have reported being verbally assaulted and people have vandalized churches. On one, the word "rapist" was scrawled in yellow.

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