Thursday, June 26, 2003

A battle for converts in Chiapas

Evangelicals" have converted almost 40 percent of the population, almost entirely at the expense of Catholicism. Only 61 percent of Chiapas is Catholic, the lowest anywhere in Mexico. Hatred and distrust abound between Protestants and so-called "traditional Catholics," who aren't Catholics at all in the usual sense. They practice a mixture of Maya and Roman Catholic ritual, reject the Bible and hire shamans to ward off evil spirits that cause illness or sin. Nowhere is the mysterious meld of Maya-Christian credo more visible than in San Juan Chamula, in the dreamlike interior of Church of St. John the Baptist, their patron saint. Mounds of pine needles cover the floor as Chamulans flock to the house of worship, then kneel amid candles and incense that cast clouds of blinding smoke. The only sacrament received is baptism. Meanwhile, evangelical Chamulans, living in shantytowns around San Cristobal de Las Casas, eschew alcohol, chant piercing gospel songs, dance to tambourines and clap thunderously in a trance-like state. In the past four decades some 30,000 Protestant converts have been violently expelled from Chamula alone. The forced expulsions continue, and about 170 evangelical children still are banned from public schools for fear of religious "contamination."

And don't skip the part about Islam....whew.