Police sent to Mexican religious community after reclusive leader dies

MEXICO CITY – Mexican police were sent to a religious community with thousands of members to maintain order after its reclusive leader died amid a bitter power struggle over who would succeed him, authorities said Wednesday.

Nabor Cardenas, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest known as “Papa Nabor” and founder of the New Jerusalem religious community, died Tuesday of renal and respiratory problems, Michoacan’s state government said in a statement.

Cardenas, 98, hadn’t been seen in public since he fell ill in 2005.

Police were sent to the area, located about 360 kilometres west of Mexico City, in case problems arise, said Magdalena Guzman, a spokeswoman for state investigators.

They remained outside the chained compound where about 5,000 of Cardenas’ followers live in small brick houses set around a cathedral in Michoacan.

The struggle over his successor has raged for several years. A man was shot dead inside the compound in 2005 and two others arrested in a dispute related to the struggle.

“I trust that in the era following Papa Nabor, the groups in New Jerusalem will lead a harmonious and tolerant coexistence,” Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy said Wednesday.

Members believe the compound will be the only place on Earth spared from what they believe is the impending Apocalypse.

Residents of the compound are forbidden from using many modern conveniences and women, referred to as “nuns” or “courtesans,” dress in robes and are not allowed to wear makeup. At one time, they were also prohibited from having children or attending school beyond Grade 5.

Most members farm the surrounding hillsides and celebrate mass in Latin, using old exorcism and baptism rituals long abandoned by the mainstream church.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday February 21, 2008.
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