Going To Church Dangerous In Mexico As Christians Face Persecution From Criminal Drug Cartels

Worshippers attend a prayer service in an evangelical church in Leon, Mexico.Reuters

In Mexico, people go to church at their own risk.

The danger is posed by the powerful drug cartels that have been acting with impunity, ruthlessly harassing Christian communities and imposing taxes on churches and businesses for their right to exist, Open Doors reported.

Dennis Petri, the Open Doors manager in Mexico, said the extortion on churches by the drug cartels "is a massive phenomenon affecting virtually all churches, while many others appear too afraid to speak about it."

Aside from extortion, the drug cartels are also engaged in kidnapping for a ransom, another income-generating activity that affects churches and businesses alike, Petri said.

In areas controlled by these drug cartels, church worshippers face the risks not only of extortions and kidnappings but also of violent and often deadly attacks if they happen to go to churches where the drug cartels have placed severe restrictions on services and the right to congregate, the Open Doors report says.

"Church services are not allowed in certain areas. There are reports of churches that have been closed by order of drug cartels," Petri said. "Moreover, there are reports of individuals who are prohibited from attending church services or have the obligation to report to the drug cartels whenever they visit a particular church."

Worse, the danger for Christians is double-sided: They also face threats and violence from self-defence groups or vigilantes that are fighting the drug cartels.

One Evangelical Christian told Open Doors that he was once threatened by these vigilantes who were former drug dealers. "On one occasion, they threw us out of our community using sticks and machetes. They threatened to kill me if I dared go back to my community," he said.

One pastor said the drug cartels are highly organised. "They can follow your every move. One cannot go anywhere alone; protection is needed all the time," he said.

Petri said pastors can't speak out against these drug cartels from the pulpit because they risk being killed if they do so.

In a previous report, a Mexican priest missing for days was found dead in January this year. The death of Father Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes, who ministered in the drug cartel-controlled state of Coahuila, was the latest of more than 30 priests who have been killed in Mexico since 2006.

Mexico is ranked 41st on the 2017 Open Doors USA's World Watch List of top Christian-persecuting countries.

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