By JESSICA GUERRERO
MORELIA, Michoacán — Since pre-Hispanic times, Mexico has been characterized by the religiosity of its inhabitants whose complex cultural legacy that prevails to this day. In the ancient Toltec, Maya and Aztec cultures, virtually every aspect of daily life resolved around religious ceremonies and rituals.
After the arrival and establishment of Catholicism in the 16th century with the Spanish conquest, the religious fervor of Mexicans continued. It is no coincidence that Mexico is the country with the second-largest Catholic population, after Brazil. Today, Mexico boasts 111 million believers, representing 77 percent of the total population.
However, in Mexico other religions and cults also coexist, which although they are considered a minority in relation to the number of Catholics in the country, have thousands and even millions of followers.
One of those cults is the Church of La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World), native to central Mexico.
This cult arose in post-revolutionary times in the 1920s, when its founder, originally from the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Eusebio Joaquín González claimed to have had an epiphany in which Jesus Christ told him that his name would henceforth be Aaron and entrusted him to restore the primitive Christian Church.
The church’s first parishioners were low-income people, residents of the city of Guadalajara, who together with Joaquín González, founded La Hermosa Provincia, their first and largest settlement, allocated in 12 hectares that were bought by the founder of this church. The cult quickly spread in the state of Jalisco and across other states in central Mexico during the second half of the 20th century.
To date, according to data from La Luz del Mundo itself, its presence is found in at least 58 countries around the world, with 15,000 temples and 5 million parishioners.
The church’s beliefs are based on the evangelical-pentecostal Christian tradition. However, unlike the Catholicism that predominates in Mexico, La Luz del Mundo does not worship any saint or figure of veneration. In addition, the life of its members is subject to the principles established by the church divided in three categories: religious, moral and civil.
The division of its parishioners by gender in the church’s celebrations and religious events is another characteristic of La Luz del Mundo. Women and men have to stay physically apart during these events since they play different roles in the community. For instance, according to the church, the Bible can only be interpreted by “those sent by God,” referring to men. Likewise, a tithe is obligatory for all members of the church.
The clothing of parishioners is also regulated by the church. Men must wear modest clothing in neutral colors. On the other hand, women must wear ankle-length skirts and must cover their hair with a tulle veil. Members of the church are also prohibited from smoking, dancing, going to the movies and swearing because all of these are considered worldly.
The lavish luxury of La Luz del Mundo religious centers is a distinctive feature of the church. With decorations of different styles, including large parthenons, Roman columns and brilliant tiles, the church does not hesitate to show the world its riches. The main structure, located in the center of La Hermosa Provincia, is a colossal building with the capacity to hold up to 15,000 people, and which, according to recent research, has tunnels and secret passageways.
The fortune that this religious emporium amasses around the world has so far been almost impossible to quantify due to the extreme secrecy with which the church has handled its finances. However, in the United States alone, the Joaquín family owns 10 properties for personal use with a total approximate value of more than $7 million.
But perhaps the most emblematic distinctive of La Luz del Mundo is its messianic culture that has prevailed since its foundation, considering its leaders as superior beings sent by God. This was the case with its founder Eusebio Joaquín González (deceased in 1977), his son Samuel Joaquín González (deceased in 2014) and, currently, with his grandson, Naasón Joaquín Garcia, 52 years old.
Naasón Joaquín Garcia is currently in prison in the United States since 2019, accused of at least 19 crimes, including: child pornography, sexual abuse of minors and human trafficking.
The arrest of Joaquín García is just the icing on the cake of a series of scandals of different kinds that the church has faced, as well as numerous accusations by some of its former members for alleged sexual abuse by church leaders, which had been brewing for decades.
The testimonies of some former members of the church brought up to the California State Prosecutor’s Office demonstrate an alleged network of corruption of minors within the organization. Evidence is currently being reviewed and evaluated by the U.S. justice system in order to initiate the final trial against the current leader of La Luz del Mundo.
Joaquín García’s defense lawyers argue that the evidence was fabricated and has requested the Los Angeles Superior Court to dismiss the charges for alleged sexual abuse of minors. However, that request was denied and the date of the trial has been set by a magistrate of the court for June 6.
Bail for the self-proclaimed “Apostle of Jesus Christ” has fluctuated during his legal process, and is now set at $90 million,the highest in California history.
Although church authorities have confirmed that despite accusations against its leader, La Luz del Mundo is still standing strong. The upcoming trial’s outcome will definitely determine the future course that La Luz del Mundo will take and its continuity.