Photo: La Nueva Jerusalen (Alan Ortega)
Outbreaks of violence have been reported once again in La Nueva Jerusalen, a religious community in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, leading the governor to threaten to use force to restore order.
The rival factions vying to run the community resorted to violence on July 5, when seven classrooms were destroyed by followers of a priest who calls himself “Saint Martin of Tours” and controls the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The priest inherited power from the late Nabor Cardenas, a former Catholic priest and founder of La Nueva Jerusalen.
He has ordered more than 500 of his followers to prevent the start of the 2012-2013 school year, which was supposed to start on Monday, with classes being held in the houses of some of the parents of the community’s more than 280 schoolchildren.
The order set off clashes between followers of the priest and dissidents who want the schools open, prompting Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo to issue an ultimatum on Monday.
“I am asking the people who guide that community spiritually to take action to pacify the situation. If they do not do that, with all respect, we will have to take action against them,” the governor said.
La Nueva Jerusalen is in Turicato, a city about 126 kilometers (78 miles) from Morelia, the capital of Michoacan.
Construction of the community, according to a book published by La Nueva Jerusalen’s religious leaders, started on June 13, 1973.
Our Lady of the Rosary supposedly appeared on that date at a place called El Callejon, where the shrine is now located, to a woman named Gabina Sanchez.
Sanchez took a message from Our Lady to Cardenas, who was a bishop in the Archdiocese of Tacambaro, which oversees churches in Turicato.
Cardenas disavowed the Catholic Church and founded La Nueva Jerusalen under the slogan “El mundo esta perdido y se va a perder” (The World Is Lost and It Will Be Lost).
The Vatican excommunicated Cardenas, who became known locally as “Pope Nabor,” while Sanchez began calling herself “Mama Salome” and became a mystic and oracle of Our Lady.
Cardenas and Sanchez ordered the community’s 9,000 residents, the majority of them poor people from across Mexico, to pray in groups for the world’s salvation.
Gabina Sanchez was replaced as the oracle of Our Lady in 1982 by a nun who calls herself “Mama Maria de Jesus” and left a convent with 200 followers to join La Nueva Jerusalen.
The fights for control of La Nueva Jerusalen threatened Cardenas’s hold on power and led to the expulsion that same year of 4,000 of the community’s 9,000 residents, who prayed 24 hours a day.
Residents told state officials in the late 1990s that the community had become home to the Gavilla de los 30, an erstwhile gang of hitmen, robbers and drug traffickers.
Agapito Gomez Aguilar, one of the gang’s members, later joined the community and became an oracle. Gomez Aguilar died on Sept. 27, 2008, at the age of 76.
Cardenas, who died at the age of 95 in February 2008, was forgiven by Catholic Bishop Luis Castro before his death.
He named his successor before dying, putting the man who calls himself Saint Martin of Tours in charge of La Nueva Jerusalen.
Bartolo Eugenio Cruz, who joined other residents in telling police about Gomez Aguilar’s alleged involvement in stockpiling firearms, drug trafficking, kidnappings and rapes, was gunned down on May 15, 2005, as he left the shrine.
Federal and state police officers took more than 24 hours to enter the community, giving those involved in criminal activities time to get arms, drugs and even a small plane out of the community, Cruz’s family said.