Page 2 of 2   <      

In Mexico, the Cardinal and the 'Crazies'

Troops supported by the Catholic Church fought a bloody, three-year war against the Mexican government in the 1920s. The war, which cost more than 70,000 lives, was an unsuccessful attempt to overturn reforms that had stripped the church of its considerable influence over the government and the country's financial system.

Even though the church is widely respected and supported -- Mexico has more than 90 million Catholics, more than any country except Brazil -- the war is often cited by Mexicans who want to maintain a strict separation of church and state.

"We fought wars to keep the church out of politics," Hernández said.

Hernández is a churchgoer. But with the doors to the cathedral often closed and guarded to keep out protesters, he now attends services in a tent on the Zocalo.

At the same time, all around him are images that have made Catholic leaders fume. Political posters featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe hang next to signs emblazoned with López Obrador's recount rallying cry: "Vote by vote, polling place by polling place." John Paul II's face shows up on similar posters, as do a bevy of saints. Crucifixes are everywhere.

Mexico's influential Catholic Bishops' Conference condemned the protesters last week, registering its "indignation" about the use of religious symbols and images in the demonstrations. Images of John Paul and the Virgin of Guadalupe had been "adulterated into political symbols," they said.

Critics of López Obrador accuse him of subtly encouraging the use of religious symbols in an attempt to create a messianic following.

"He's playing with fire," Krauze said.

López Obrador generally declines to discuss his religious beliefs, but pictures of saints hang from the tent where he has been living during the protest, and he has not discouraged protesters from using religious symbols.

The demonstrators wrapped in sleeping bags in the Zocalo clearly have no plans to take down their Virgins or their crucifixes. And Rivera seems disinclined to apologize for calling them crazy. So they sit across the street from each other, the protesters and the cardinal, immovable in their grudge match, with church bells clanging overhead.

<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company