APATZINGAN, Mexico — Their names hang from a wooden cross at the altar of a Catholic cathedral, the dead and missing of the diocese: Manuel Alaya. Octavio Contreras. Sergio Madrigal.Share
This has been the bloodiest year since 1998 when it comes to drug violence here in the state of Michoacan. For Miguel Patiño Velazquez, a 75-year-old bishop with a white frock and dark circles under his eyes, it is time to speak out.
The bishop has criticized drug gangs by name, supported village vigilantes and demanded that the government restore order. Where other church fathers have spoken in generic terms about the violence, the bishop has been bold, leading the Catholic Church into the heart of the public debate.
“Now is the moment to be one voice for our poor people, for our society,” he said. But his stance has also put the bishop in the crosshairs of his enemy — a drug mafia whose leader, Nazario Moreno, has his own brand of fervent followers.
Moreno is known variously as “El Chayo” and “The Craziest One.” He may or may not be dead. He is the cult-like figurehead of the Knights Templar, which claims to be the righteous defender of the peasantry against a corrupt government.
Knights Templar members have been known to wear ceremonial white cloaks with red crosses and to spread Moreno’s religious writings as gospel. Hundreds of them used to convene to hear their leader’s multi-hour sermons. But they are also brutal killers and methamphetamine dealers who extort everyone from big corporations to street vendors throughout Michoacan, according to residents and government officials. (Read more.)