Hidalgo town threatens to tear down homes of those refusing to ‘recant.’
by Elisabeth Isais
MEXICO CITY, May 19 (Compass) -- Every year since establishing the Fountain of Heaven Church in Cuateceometl in 1997, some members of this evangelical congregation in the Mexican state of Hidalgo have spent short periods of time in jail.
That is not because they are guilty of any crime. It happens because the majority of the town residents are Roman Catholics and local authorities have assumed a position of intolerance toward any other religious expression.
On May 15, evangelical believers in the modest rural congregation, which is part of the Abundant Life Christian Fraternity, suffered yet another indignity. That Sunday morning, six police officers and a local Catholic catechist appeared at the church at 10 a.m. and arrested Pastor Francisco Sanchez Gonzalez and church member Raul Bautista.
The arrests prompted national leaders of the Abundant Life Christian Fraternity to take action on behalf of the beleaguered believers in Cuateceometl. Gregorio Gonzalez, a Mexico City pastor and the legal representative of the denomination, and Christian lawyer Alfonso Ferrera brought the plight of Fountain of Heaven Church to the attention of state and federal authorities.
Ferrera, a religious rights activist, directs the United Party for Mexico (PUM in Spanish) in the nearby state of Mexico. He joined Gonzalez in asking government authorities to see to it that Fountain of Heaven members be allowed to worship freely -- a right guaranteed by the Mexican constitution.
Cuateceometl lies in Huejutla de Reyes municipality in the central state of Hidalgo. The local assembly (town meeting) recently decided to “eradicate” all non-Catholic Christians from the area.
Gonzalez said the assembly imposed a fine of 1,000 pesos (approximately $110) on every member of the church and informed them that they must renounce their evangelical faith.
Members of the Fountain of Heaven Church have until the end of May to comply, or else their homes and the church’s chapel will be torn down.
Even if the believers do deny their evangelical faith, which is quite unlikely, they must still pay the fine, an enormous sum for families in rural Mexico.
Government authorities reportedly promised to intervene in the Cuateceometl crisis before the May 31 deadline.
Pastor Sanchez was released from jail the same Sunday evening. However, Bautista was not freed for 48 hours, and then only after a relative paid the 1,000-peso fine.
The Fountain of Heaven Church is the only non-Catholic congregation in a wide area surrounding Cuateceometl. However, small towns nearby reportedly have one or two families each who profess the evangelical faith.