Mexico’s crisis of faith

March 10, 2011
La Santa Muerte, Mercado Juárez, Monterrey. Some rights reserved by hiperkarma

For all the crises and confrontations that the United States faces around the world, some observers think that the most alarming situation of all might be on our own doorstep. Back in 2008, the U.S. Joint Forces Command warned that both Mexico and Pakistan might suffer "rapid and sudden collapse." If Mexico did succumb to its escalating drug wars, that would leave a classic failed state of 110 million people just across the Rio Grande. That figure does not count some 25 million people of Mexican heritage in the U.S.

Whether or not we can realistically talk of state collapse, the Mexican situation is serious. Drug-related violence has claimed some 30,000 lives since 2006, and large areas of the country are under the effective control of one or more of the notorious cartels, gangs and militias. Few weeks go by without the media reporting some massacre of innocents, and police and government officials are regularly targeted.

Lost in most discussions of the crisis is the role of the churches. This in practice means above all the Roman Catholic Church, which theoretically claims the loyalty of at least 80 percent of the population. (Around 6 percent of Mexicans are Prot­estant.) Al­though Mexico maintains a strict separation of church and state, nobody denies the enormous role of Catholicism in Mexican society and culture.

How have Christians coped with the horror of living through a virtual civil war? In many instances, clergy and believers have lived up to their ideals. They have behaved heroically, striving to make peace between factions, trying to fulfill social needs in regions where secular government has all but abdicated its power. Individual priests and bishops comfort bereaved families and preach bravely against violence and criminality, at grave risk to their lives. Fearless activism for peace and human rights made Saltillo's legend­ary bishop José Raúl Vera López a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some senior clergy propose long-term solutions for the crisis. Although he is a staunch social and theological conservative, the head of the Mexican church, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, has opened the door to reforming Mexico's drug laws, suggesting that the issue must be re-framed as a public health problem rather than a matter for the criminal law.

But for all the zeal of such leaders, the drug crisis has exposed some alarming weaknesses in the church, as a traditionally poor society has faced the overwhelming temptations of drug money. One emerging crisis in the church concerns the poor parishes that receive offers of vast gifts from local magnates known to be narcotrafficantes. Although Cardinal Rivera Carrera declares that the church should never accept such dirty money, it is no secret that many priests have used drug money to rebuild churches and launch social welfare projects. This concession obviously compromises their ability to speak out against crime, mayhem and terrorism.

Even more troubling is what the crisis has revealed about the content of the beliefs of many ordinary people—perhaps several millions in all—who unhesitatingly describe themselves as Christian and Catholic but who in fact follow a twisted caricature of orthodox faith, in which religion is wholly separated from morality. Through the centuries, the Mexican church made many compromises with native beliefs, assimilating traditional gods and spiritual beings into the roster of Christian saints, and most observers would applaud these policies as successful examples of inculturation. In some cases, though, poor believers went much further in developing their own alternate and unauthorized forms of folk Cath­olicism, centered on evil or criminal entities. Whereas these cults were once practiced in the shadows, the drug crisis has brought them into the light, as arrests have revealed that these faiths are practiced among criminals and the underclass.

One terrifying symbol is the skeletal figure of La Santa Muerte, Saint Death, who serves as the gangs' patron saint. As Andrew Chesnut describes in his forthcoming book Devoted to Death (Ox­ford University Press), Santa Muerte is condemned by the official church but worshiped in countless clandestine shrines. Nor is she the only manifestation of a subversive pseudo-Catholicism that veers close to outright diabolism. Another wildly popular folk saint is the 19th-century bandit Jesús Mal­­verde, "angel of the poor," patron of drug dealers and illegal migrants. Devotees of San Juan Soldado (Soldier John) venerate a man executed in 1938 for raping and murdering an eight-year-old girl. While such beliefs demonstrate a profound faith in spiritual realities, they also show the yawning gulf that separates popular practice from any traditional concept of Christian faith.

If and when Mexico re­gains social and political stability, the churches should take their proper share of the credit. At that point, the clergy will also need to confront the deep spiritual crisis that has become so evident.



In 1999 I was working in the Reforma area of México City. On my day off I went to see a newly remodeled cathedral. As I exited this holy place a man approached and tried to sell me cocaine on the steps of the church. I called out to the nearby police. A crowd gathered. I explained to the officer that this man was selling drugs on the church property. He took the man aside, asked a few questions, and then let him loose. People in the crowd became angry with me and yelled “Gringo! Go Home!” The police officer advised me to go back to my hotel.

In a separate incident a man repeatedly tried to sell me prostitution services of young teen-age girls on my way back and forth to work.

No one can fix this type of corruption. Méxican people are corrupt and their police are corrupt, too. It’s an accepted way of life unfortunately. Only the divine judgment Almighty God -- or His mercy of providing them the power to repent --- can correct this utterly corrupt culture..

Mexico is violent, corrupt

Mexico is violent, corrupt and uneducated. As the most powerful institution in the country over the last century, doesn't the church bear some responsibility?

The Church's fault?

Yea it's all the Church's fault for not doing more to stop has nothing to do with drug thirsty Americans who fuel the whole horrific game so don't mention that at all!

You're probably right smart's probably the people who are out their giving free food and shelter who are inspiring evil?

I mean whenever I see a selfless priest spend his entire life in poverty to help the extremely poor I immediately think "man I really want to go become a narcoterrorist and murder hundreds of innocent people"!

If you're saying that evil people do indeed exist within the Church, please stop trolling internet message boards with ten thousand other trolls saying the same thing...go read the first chapter of the Catechism and you'll know that the Church makes no secret of her sinners!

Hope in Mexico

What can the Churches of Mexico do?

In one of the most violent border towns of Mexico, four local churches have turned to the bible for guidelines for what they can do so God may restore their nation.

Following Deuteronomy 30:2-3; Malachi 4:6; Ephesians 6:4 and many other similar exhortations, these churches are engaging the minds and hearts of their children, and and their neighbors' children, through inspired Christian education. A dozen teens and parents at each church volunteer on weekends to nurture the children's imagination and vision through enriched study of classic literature, providential history, reflective use of the bible, and outreach into their community through art, music, drama and sports, and unselfish service.

The Noreste Presbytery churches obtained encouragement, training, and the AMO® program curriculum from non-profit Chrysalis International. The churches receive modest financial assistance from US churches and individuals supporting Proyecto Amistad, a bi-national partnership of churches.

Most churches across Mexico could try this. Because parent and teen volunteers lead such kids' clubs, the cost per child is tiny. The cooperative work of the volunteers not only benefits children, but builds relationships essential to strengthening community through principled self-government.

Others who place their hope in the Lord have used AMO with remarkable results in increasingly well documented restoration movements from the Dominican Republic to Cali Columbia to Brazil. (AMO is available in 5 languages and is now used in 27 nations, and by most of the top global mission aid organizations. See )

In Mexico and Columbia, some of the volunteers who teach the kids are in fact the widows of martyrs and mothers waiting for return of abducted husbands. Many of the children who enjoy the program have also lost their fathers or await their freedom from literal enslavement by abductors. Some children in Columbia whose lives were changed had been former street gang leaders. Where ever AMO is used, families report within a month noticeable changes in relationships in the home.

The Lord provides who step forward with such faith. He turns the hearts of parents to their children, and children to their parents, and nations ARE restored.

We have seen the Glory of the Lord open and begin to restore many nations in the last 50 years. We can have faith that He will do the same for Mexico, and many others even more troubled.

The relation with US

Through the history of the mexican society the relationship with our north neighbors has determined much of the direction that Mexico has been taked.
The catholic church is the most powerful institution in Mexico, you say? This may be before the independence of Spain. Certainly not after the victory of Benito Juarez an his jacobin liberals, supported by the United States.
The drug traffic problem can't be resolved while great demand of that goods exist in the United States, and while the guns continues crossing the Rio Bravo to fullfill the drug traffickers arsenal.

La falta de la huero?

So it's not the pimp's fault at all?
It's all the John's fault?

Your logic falls flat on its face.

Mexico's biggest problem is that every time it confronts earth shattering blames it on the gringos, drinks Tequila and passes out and then blames the hueros some more about the drunken brawl!

Blame the gringo...

Most drug cartel weapons in Mexico come from their southern border, and the second source is the Mexican military.

Not many of your northern neighbors are in the Mexican military, nor are they south of the Mexican border.

Inculturation assumed a good thing?

"most observers would applaud these policies as successful examples of inculturation"
As long as these words are true, if indeed they are, the "spiritual crisis that has become so evident" will never be understood or 'solved'. It is the hypocrisy and lack of true spirituality which is evidenced by the policy of inculturation that engenders these 'hybrid' beliefs. Inculturation may seem 'successful' but when people with real beliefs see missionary priests who change what they preach and accept even paradoxical or 'evil' beliefs and practices in exchange for uttering a few words differently and letting themselves be dunked in water - of course it's not a true conversion. People who live their faith see false faith very clearly.

A little more attention to the message of Jesus (to whom structured church was anathema) and seeking to humbly understand all people, rather than ignorantly demonizing any spiritual view not your own and seeing every 'new world' as an opportunity to climb religious league tables, would make the world a better place and Christians genuine Christians.


Mexico is still basically an Aztec society.

What about Catholicism?

All religions are in many ways fradulent.

But Christianity goes further: it centres itself on a conspiracy story about the betrayal of its supposed founder, a story of torture and death and bitter accusations of treachery.

This is anything but healthy. It feeds one of the meanest tendencies of the human spirit: spitefulness.

No wonder historically Christianity goes hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism.

It was a bad hour for mankind when the Roman Empire adopted this spiteful conspiracy story as its religion.

The promise of living forever is of course, outstanding for its sheer vulgarity. What a dreary prospect! Again, the appeal to tenth-rate minds.

Christians bray about wanting to "share" their story. But they have zero interest in learning the wisdom of any other faith.

Christianity is no religion

Christianity is no religion; it is a way of living. Religion is mans wisdom above that of God and is flamed by the Devil himself.