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Baptist families forced from homes, church in Mexican villages

Christians displaced from their homes in Coamila and Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, enjoy a meal provided by fellow believers. CSW photo

HIDALGO, Mexico (BP) – Nearly 150 Baptists have fled their homes in Mexico after village leaders persecuted them because of their faith, cutting essential services and blocking entry, CSW reported April 30.

The 139 Great Commission Baptist Church members, residents of Coamila and Rancho Nuevo villages in Hidalgo, left their homes April 26 after village leaders cut off their electricity, vandalized and blocked access to some of their homes and the church, and posted guards at village entry points, said CSW (formerly Christian Solidarity Worldwide).

Despite the guarantee of religious freedom in Mexico’s constitution, a dual legal system allows local indigenous communities to govern under the Law on Uses and Customs. The laws, which vary by village and customs, are often exploited against religious minorities, several religious freedom watchdog groups have reported.

Rancho Nuevo and Coamila are indigenous Nahuatl-speaking communities.

“Freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed to all in Mexico, including those in indigenous communities, and yet the attacks on this right in Rancho Nuevo and Coamila have been egregious and ongoing now for almost a decade,” CSW Chief Executive Officer Scott Bower said in a press release.

Great Commission Baptist Church Pastor Hernández Baltazar, who has also suffered persecution, expressed to Bower deep concern for the church’s plight.

“When you convert from Catholicism you lose all rights and all standing in the village,” Bower quoted Baltazar.

Those displaced, including five infants and 70 children under age 17, are seeking sanctuary at the Municipal Presidency building in Huejutla de los Reyes, also in Hidalgo, asking the government to intervene and provide access to their homes and church, Milamex (Latin American Mission of Mexico) reported.

Baptists and other Protestants have suffered increasing persecution for nearly a decade in majority Catholic villages.

In early April, village leaders sanctioned the takeover of five plots of land owned by church members, cutting down trees and destroying crops, CSW said.

In March, Baltazar and other church leaders were arbitrarily detained two days, CSW said.

CSW urged Hidalgo Gov. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar “to work to establish a culture of rule of law where the fundamental rights of all are guaranteed, and where swift action is taken to hold those responsible for the criminal acts committed in association with the violations of these rights to account.”

Protestants in several Hidalgo villages face persecution including severe beatings, lack of access to medical care, arbitrary detainment, forced participation in Catholic religious festivals through financial giving and worship, employment discrimination and confiscation of property. Children of religious minorities have been blocked since 2018 from attending the local school.

The U.S. Department of State, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and persecution watchdog Open Doors have all reported that customs and use laws have led to the persecution of religious minorities in Mexico.

Open Doors ranked Mexico as 37 on its list of the 50 countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.