Thousands of people cried, got on their knees, sang praises, and suddenly fell silent without realizing what was to come. “I feel how the spirit of God moves majestically between us, my soul is overflowing with happiness.” It is the voice of Naasón Joaquín García, leader of the Mexican church La Luz del Mundo and sentenced last year to almost 17 years in prison for sexual abuse in California. The crowd roars after hearing the voice of the man they recognize as the apostle of Jesus Christ, God’s representative on Earth, from prison. It is the Lord’s Supper, the main celebration of religion. It is also the first time that the party is held in person after the covid-19 pandemic and, above all, after the sentence was released against the head of the organization, previously accused of crimes such as pedophilia. , human trafficking, rape or production of child pornography. Within Hermosa Provincia, the world headquarters of the congregation, the apostle Naasón is still considered a holy man. Outside, he is a confessed sexual predator and protests by dissidents and cult survivors multiply to demand justice for the victims.
Naasón Joaquín’s message lasted only about 15 minutes. The Last Supper is a commemoration of the last supper of Jesus Christ and is celebrated every August 14, on the birthday of Aarón Joaquín, Naasón’s grandfather and founder of the religion in the twenties. It is a sacred date for the hundreds of thousands of faithful of the church, who each year fill the streets of the Mexican city of Guadalajara to receive the apostle’s blessing. The so-called servant of God is the great absentee, as in the last four years. “I am not here and I am among all of you; They do not see me and they do feel me in this wonderful coexistence ”, is heard in the telephone call from the Chino prison (California). The religious leader, who signed a plea agreement to avoid going to trial and risk life in prison, justifies his absence as if it were a divine mandate, as Christ’s absence is justified. “No one like our god… we don’t see him, but we feel his beautiful caresses,” he cries.
The call is presented by La Luz del Mundo as an “apostolic intercession”: the leader, accused outside the walls of the church of raping minors and abusing his power, asks God to forgive the sins of his flock, which is assumed as the new chosen people. His faithful believe that he is the anointed, the only one who has direct communication with the Lord. In the first section of the sermon, Naasón Joaquín affirms that Jesus also “lived the difficulties of the flesh” and “knows how to sympathize with our weaknesses.” “Many times I have cried out with tears to my Lord Jesus Christ so that he gives his grace and truth to my brothers,” he says through tears.
From that point on, the line between the forgiveness he asks for the sins of the congregation and the accusations the religious minister faced becomes blurred, at least from the outside. “There is no sadder and more pitiful state than that of the sinner, submerged in the mire of guilt, the sadism of malice, all due to a whim of his flesh, due to an unhealthy whim and a soft deceit that brought him the worst evils. ”, declaims Naasón Joaquín. And he continues with a sorrowful voice: “A momentary pleasure that hurt them all their lives, in a golden cup Satan gives them poison to drink and they receive in exchange the sharp thorns of remorse.”
“For this reason, I humbly intervene before your blessed presence seeking your mercy and forgiveness,” Joaquín ditch. In the perspective of the church, which still rejects all the accusations and has disqualified the testimonies of the victims, “guilt and malice” are the distinguishing traits of those who have left the organization, the “true sinners.” “I want to ask you for my people, Lord, because they have moved away from you, from your love and your mercy, for those who were deceived and confused, and believed that there was something better than you,” is heard in the audio. Suddenly, an automated recording interrupts in English: “It’s six o’clock in the afternoon.” Naasón never makes explicit reference to it, but he is in jail.
“Let us praise God, we have been blessed, today we have a great blessing with the intercessory prayer of the Apostle of the Lord; we have been cleansed, sanctified, purified; To God be the glory, the honor and the praise”, shouts another minister from the pulpit, before the choir sings An act of love, a hymn in honor of the sacrifice of Christ and the apostle. Tears and heart-rending cries flood Hermosa Provincia again. The organization says more than a million people have turned out for the week-long celebration, though census figures in Mexico give them only about 170,000 followers nationwide.
Tears were also present outside the congregation. They are tears of indignation, courage and rage. Like those of Lety, a 44-year-old woman from the United States, whom she spoke to the media for the first time after leaving the organization two years ago. “Waking up was very hard and very painful for me, The Light of the World was all I knew since I was born,” she shares, on the condition that she not reveal her true identity. She is scared. She ensures that all the faithful know the consequences and dangers of leaving.
Dozens of former members have denounced to this newspaper harassment on social networks, excommunication from their own families, and even death threats. Two of her four children are still inside her and have broken off all communication with her. She also doesn’t want the decision she made to affect them. “It takes a lot of courage to admit that you were wrong and that the only ones who benefited from our work and our money were the royal family (Los Joaquín) and their ministers,” she says.
“They told us that an evil spirit had entered the denouncers and that they wanted to destroy the church, that it was all a conspiracy against the apostle,” says Lety, who left after learning the true nature of the accusations against her leader and that she was slow to make it public for fear that her own children would accuse her with the church. It is the same as reported by Abishai, another former faithful who grew up in a devout family and who decided to leave him after his wife told him that when she was a teenager she was “chosen” to serve the apostle Samuel, the father of Naason. . Samuel Joaquín also faced accusations of sexual abuse in the 1990s, but none reached the courts, even after one of the complainants was stabbed more than 60 times and went into exile.
The Abisaí woman came to massage the leader’s feet and wear clothes prohibited in public by the church to comply with the wishes of her “father in faith”, one of the gateways to the sexual abuse that later emerged against Naasón . She was a “stay block,” a group within the religion that pledges undying allegiance to the apostle and submits all aspects of her life to the wishes of the leadership. The existence of the stalwarts is publicly denied by the organization. “My world fell apart, but I was such a fan that I didn’t believe at first. She fought for me to open my eyes,” admits the man, who also requests anonymity. Most of his family is still inside and the cult forbade them to talk to him any more. In a matter of months he went from being a devout member to becoming an “enemy of the church” and being attacked for revealing personal details of his life and his business.
“The ministers sow the idea that the apostle is a holy man, they tell you ‘we know him, we know who we have believed in,’ Abisaí comments. “But that’s the biggest lie, because all we know is the man who stands for two hours to speak from the pulpit,” he adds. What made him change his mind was seeing a video of Naasón Joaquín with his lawyer Alan Jackson, who led the defense of actor Kevin Spacey and billionaire Harvey Weinstein in other cases of sexual abuse, in which the apostle admitted that he had had sex. with one of his secretaries. “I realized that the holiest and purest man in the world was actually an adulterer,” he says. “I am outraged and filled with courage to see these images because I was like them,” says the former member of the Lord’s Supper.
The sentence in California marked the end of the criminal case, but it was not the end of the controversy. After not being consulted by the courts about the agreement with Naasón Joaquín, several victims of sexual abuse such as Jane Does (the name given to anonymous whistleblowers in the US) and Sochil Martin, the first woman to raise her voice publicly, have filed Other civil complaints. And new accusations have surfaced against other members, as well as the possibility that the religious leader will face a new trial in a US federal court. Kaleb Lemus, choir director at the church in Houston, Texas, was arrested last week for abusing his partner’s granddaughter for six years. He was released after posting $75,000 bail.
“We know that in the process of the apostle of the Lord a judicial authority established a resolution, but we decided, in the exercise of our freedoms, to go ahead,” a spokesperson for La Luz del Mundo told the Efe news agency. He also assured that the membership has not decreased and that the church has opened new temples in Japan and Denmark. He added that they are already present in 64 countries and have seven million followers. They maintain, as they have from the beginning, that they are the prey of “religious persecution”.
In contrast, Lety and Abisaí affirm that each time they meet more people who have abandoned the congregation and others who have stopped believing, but who are afraid to formally separate. There are also more and more complaints and demonstrations of rejection against the leadership of the organization. Thousands of faithful have joined a protest through social networks, called at the same time as religious celebrations, in which testimonies of sexual, spiritual and economic violence by former faithful are offered. Those who were alone after “going out into the world”, as those who have left the faith are called, have now found a new refuge, are increasingly organized and say they are firm in their search for justice. The Holy Supper has been the last chapter of a story that is far from writing its final page. “We will continue fighting so that people open their eyes and can see the reality of what is happening,” Lety concludes.
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