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In Mexico, Church's Influence Wanes as Evangelism Grows

Guadalupe Hernandez, wife of the injured mason Gonzalez, was also raised Catholic and attended the church in the town square, with its vaulted ceilings and ornate altar decorated with candles and fresh carnations.

Even after she saw how the new evangelical church had helped her husband, she said, she did not want to leave the Catholic church that was so familiar. Besides, some relatives were upset that her husband had left the church of their ancestors.

Guadalupe Hernandez and her husband were raised as Roman Catholics but joined a Protestant church in their village because they said it was more relevant to their lives. (Mary Jordan -- The Washington Post)

But now, she also attends the little wooden church. On Sunday, she entered her new church, pulled the blue and green shawl that she had embroidered over her head and prayed, searching for a rare moment of solitude after caring for her two youngest daughters, ages 3 and 4.

Hernandez, who lives in a one-room shack with a concrete floor and an open fireplace for a stove, said she had nothing negative to say about the Catholic Church. Rather, she said, she found more help in her new church when she became violently ill three months ago. She said it was an evangelical pastor who came to stay with her until her stomach pains passed.

Mariano de la Cruz Gonzalez is one of the two pastors who administer to the 100 people in Gonzalez's Protestant congregation, Church of Christ. He said the church is winning over Catholics because it offers a more direct connection to people and a more relevant message tailored to their needs. In this village, that message is: The drinking must stop!

Though Zinacantan is known to outsiders mostly for its colorful embroidered shawls, those who live here say the town is largely defined by what it lacks: jobs and a way out of poverty. Many idle men spend much of the day drinking; on a recent morning, a middle-aged man stumbled around near the town square, a bottle of the clear "firewater" clenched in his hand.

De la Cruz does not have the long years of formal education that Roman Catholic priests do. But he lives with his wife in the community and speaks Tzotzil. And Gonzalez said the important thing for him is that "I can go to his house whenever I want to. I can talk to him whenever I need to."

In Gonzalez's new church this past Sunday, most of the people in its pews were former Catholics. At San Lorenzo, the grand Catholic church on the town square, there was no Mass on Sunday. The priest was conducting services elsewhere.

Researcher Bart Beeson contributed to this report.

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