By Mariana Gonzalez-Marquez
Guadalajara, Mexico, Aug 14 (efe-epa).- The Mexico-based La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World) evangelical megachurch on Friday is celebrating its most solemn ceremony remotely and without the presence of its leader, who is currently jailed in the United States on sex-crime charges.
In a typical year, thousands of faithful would throng to the church’s main headquarters in the western city of Guadalajara for that fundamentalist organization’s week-long Holy Convocation, which culminates with the religious Holy Supper Service.
But the pandemic has thrown a wrench in those plans and forced people to stay at home and watch the celebration on screens at homes instead.
Meanwhile, the church’s self-proclaimed apostle and spiritual leader, Naason Joaquin Garcia, will not be participating for the second straight year due to sex-crime charges that include child rape and possession of child pornography.
Fabian Acosta Rico, a scholar at the University of Guadalajara’s Studies Center on Religion and Society, told Efe that Joaquin’s absence since June 2019, when he was arrested in the US state of California, has been a harsh blow for a religious community that elevates the figure of their leader “above the word of God.”
“The Bible is important in this church, but the word of the apostle is more important. It’s clear to them that he is the vehicle through which God communicates with the community. Naason’s word is sacralized to such a degree that it is considered the word of God,” he said.
Despite the serious charges he faces, Joaquin’s image is still found at homes, streets and churches inside and outside Hermosa Provincia, a township on the outskirts of Guadalajara that is the epicenter for La Luz del Mundo’s decisions and activities.
A dissident sector of the community has called for him to be deposed, but most the church’s members continue to support him despite the sex-crime allegations facing him and two of his female associates.
“The community has remained loyal to their guide, and rather than believe all the accusations hovering around the apostle of God, their natural reaction has been to reject them and chalk them up to a kind of conspiracy that has been fabricated precisely as a blow not only the charismatic leader but also the entire community,” Acosta Rico said.
Joaquin faces trial in a Los Angeles court on 36 counts of sex crimes that allegedly occurred between June 2015 and June 2019.
The leader also is being investigated by the FBI for the alleged sexual abuse of a minor who was identified in videos discovered on seized electronic devices at one of his homes.
Nicolas Menchaca Tristan, the religious organization’s deputy director of communications and public relations, told Efe that the church’s members are not worried now about the legal proceedings and are focusing on their own faith.
“Our thoughts on not so much on the trial but on the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We know that this is a solemn ceremony that is in memory of the death of Jesus Christ.”
The faithful have been following from their homes the services and activities of the week-long Holy Convocation, a celebration whose main purpose is to commemorate the passion and death of Jesus and which was broadcast from different temples in Mexico and the US.
The traditional mass baptisms and a walk for peace were not held this year to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
On Friday, church ministers will host the Holy Supper ceremony in Joaquin’s absence from the La Luz del Mundo’s most recently built church in Phoenix, Arizona.
The ceremony will be broadcast through the church’s communications channels to 54 countries.
Menchaca Tristan, who also serves as one of the organization’s pastors, said these activities “are atypical but not any less solemn and spiritual” and that carrying them out in this way are a “test” that the community must face and overcome. EFE-EPA