MEXICO CITY (CNS) – In the ramshackle tent city that recently sprouted in downtown Mexico City, Deacon Alvaro Sierra preached to his flock about a dark conspiracy to rig July's presidential election.
PROTEST CAMP SET UP NEAR CATHEDRAL – A man reclines outside a tent in a protest camp set up in Mexico City's central plaza, near the Metropolitan Cathedral, Aug. 22. Supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the defeated presidential candidate, have gathered in the plaza to demand a recount in the July 2 election as a court weighs legal challenges against candidate Felipe Calderon's victory. (CNS)
"The rich and the powerful, our right-wing adversaries, conspired to steal victory from us," Deacon Sierra said. Then, Bible in hand, he led the 20-odd farmers and laborers in chanting what has become the battle cry of the Mexican left since conservative candidate Felipe Calderon posted a razor-thin victory in the July 2 polls.
"Vote by vote, polling station by polling station," they shouted together, referring to leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's demand for a full recount, which the candidate says would reverse his 243,000-vote loss.
Deacon Sierra, who is steeped in liberation theology, a Latin American Catholic movement that stresses social justice, has spent nearly a month living and preaching in the protest camp, a chain of tarps and improvised tents occupying the capital's central plaza and five miles of a major thoroughfare.
Protesters hope to build public pressure on the nation's top electoral court to order a full recount before judges run into a Sept. 6 deadline to declare an official winner.
Lopez Obrador claims Calderon plotted with election authorities, although election observers from the European Union said there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
Lopez Obrador's supporters have been besieging banks and corporate offices for weeks to call attention to the backing Calderon received from powerful business clans, which Lopez Obrador says violated campaign finance laws.
Recently, the protesters have turned to a new foe: the Catholic hierarchy.
About 50 people from the camps burst into Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral Aug. 20 and disrupted the Mass being celebrated by Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, whom protesters claim supports Calderon.
Throughout the camps, posters hang that depict Calderon, a Catholic, as a puppet of Cardinal Rivera or Pope Benedict XVI.
Protesters also recently marched on the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe bearing posters that read, "God is not a Panista," referring to Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, which is widely associated with the church.
"Our pastors have failed us by supporting the right," said Deacon Sierra, who normally preaches in Resurrection Parish in the provincial city of Pachuca, about two hours northeast of the capital.
Cardinal Rivera and other church leaders have denied they favor either of the two candidates, but have sharply criticized the protests for snarling Mexico City's traffic.
The Mexico City Archdiocese condemned the protesters' recent disruption of Mass at the cathedral as an "aggression against the church."
Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party is one of the most secular-oriented parties in Mexico and regularly questions church involvement in politics. But like the vast majority in Mexico, the party's members are mostly Catholic.
Party leaders said members should be free to express their politics during church services and accused the National Action Party of trying to corner the political market on religion.
"It seems to me that the doors of the temples should be open to all citizens, whatever their political preferences," Jesus Ortega, Lopez Obrador's campaign chief, said at an Aug. 20 press conference. "Some think they have a monopoly on the Catholic Church and that they have a monopoly on God."
Democratic Revolution Party officials have criticized the National Action Party for prominently placing images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, around party headquarters during victory celebrations on election night.
Calderon has been keeping a low profile as the electoral court weighs Lopez Obrador's legal challenges, and National Action Party officials did not return repeated calls requesting comment.
Several of the National Action Party's founding members, including Calderon's father, took up arms against the government in the 1920s to resist anti-clerical laws that forbade the public expression of religion. The party later evolved into one for the middle class and was pro-business, but it is still widely considered a Catholic party.
The court initially dismissed Lopez Obrador's request for a full recount, instead ordering a new count of only about 9 percent of the ballots. Officials from both parties say the partial recount did not change the election's outcome.
Legal experts say the court is unlikely to expand the recount, despite Lopez Obrador's threats to hold more protests should judges rule against him.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.