Pope visits Mexican cult-like cartel's homeland

2016-02-16 19:22
Pope Francis waves upon arrival at Francisco J Mujica Airport in Morelia, Mexico. (Hector Guerrero, AFP)

Pope Francis waves upon arrival at Francisco J Mujica Airport in Morelia, Mexico. (Hector Guerrero, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Morelia - Pope Francis arrived on Tuesday in Mexico's troublesome western state of Michoacan, where the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel and its pseudo-messianic leader terrorised the population until farmers revolted against them.

The 79-year-old pope will lead a mass with priests, nuns and seminarians in the state capital, Morelia, followed by a tour of the city's cathedral and a second mass with Mexican youths in a stadium.

Hundreds greeted him at the airport while about 2 000 swarmed the colonial plaza as they waited for a glimpse of the pope amid a heavy police contingent across the city.

"I have faith that things will change after the pope's visit, that we will realise that violence is not the way to go," said Jose Rodriguez, a migrant who travelled from Los Angeles for the pope's visit.

Michoacan endured some of the most gruesome episodes of Mexico's drug war, which has left 100 000 people dead or missing in the past decade.

Dozens of priests were killed in that span, including a handful in Michoacan, where one clergymen celebrated mass with a bulletproof vest.

Francis has used his five-day cross-country trip, which ends on Wednesday, to press Mexican leaders to provide "effective security" to their citizens.

It was just steps away from Morelia's 17th century cathedral that two grenades blew up in a packed plaza during independence day festivities on September 15, 2008, killing eight people and injuring some 100. Drug cartels were the main suspects.

'The Craziest One' 

While the massacre shocked the country, the gangs mainly afflicted rural areas of Michoacan, especially the fertile lime and avocado region known as "Tierra Caliente" ("Hot Land").

It was there in 2006 that the country came to know La Familia Michoacana after the cartel rolled five severed heads down a dance floor with a message promising "divine justice".

The gang was founded by Nazario Moreno, alias "The Craziest One," a self-styled messiah who wrote the "Gospel of La Familia" - a religion-inspired rulebook banning gang members from consuming drugs or alcohol.

The government wrongly declared him dead after a 2010 gunfight with police. Troops killed him for good in 2014.

After his first death, the Knights Templar cartel emerged and Moreno became a folk saint known as "San Nazario," with shrines in his honour dressed like a crusader with a red cross.

While the Knights claimed to defend Michoacan against other cartels, the gang killed, kidnapped and extorted regular people.

Fed up with the police's inability or unwillingness to act, farmers formed vigilante groups in 2013.

"We had to do a job that wasn't ours to do," Hipolito Mora, a lime grower and founder of the vigilante movement, told AFP.

Even clergymen were not safe. In 2013, authorities provided security to a bishop who backed the vigilantes over fears of an imminent attack.

Another pro-vigilante priest in Apatzingan, a former cartel bastion, wore a bulletproof vest during mass.

The New Family

The federal government deployed security forces to help the self-defence forces, leading to the capture or killing of the cartel's top leaders.

"Francis will see a Michoacan that is very different than when we were hurt by drug trafficking," said Jaime Rivera, a security expert at Michoacana University.

"But he will also find a financially broke government that hasn't been able to eliminate criminal cells that continue to commit crimes."

While the cartel was severely weakened, smaller gangs have emerged, including La Nueva Familia (The New Family).

Meanwhile, the vigilantes were sullied by infighting and accusations that some were infiltrated by cartels.

Authorities decided to fold the militias into a government-sanctioned rural defence force in 2014. Authorities are now integrating them into regular police units.

"Hopefully the government will do its job well so that we don't have to take up arms again," Mora said.

Read more on:    pope francis  |  mexico

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24


And the Paws24 and Hill's winners are ...

Find out who the winners of our Paws24 pet pics and Q&a competitions are...



Keep your family and pets safe from rabies
5 scientific benefits of owning a cat
Why we love cats
8 great natural remedies for your pet
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.