The Self-Defense Priest
By CARMEN ESCOBOSA
“Padre Goyo” does not mince words. With the same mouth he preaches the gospel at Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Apatzingan, Michoacan, this priest criticizes the government and confronts drug cartels.
Catholic priest Gregorio Lopez has put aside his role as mediator in a conflict area to become a defender of the self-defense groups.
His controversial opinions have awakened the support and admiration of many of the faithful, a scolding from his bishop, and a plan to assassinate him.
The priest has made many enemies from the pulpit, where he has accused them of being members of the Caballeros Templarios. They responded with accusations they haven’t been able to prove and attempts on his life they haven’t been able to carry out.
“Hey, don’t go to the meeting today. There’s going to be a grenade exploded in the plaza.” This from intelligence sources, says Padre Goyo.
The archdiocese of Apatzingan is worried Padre Goyo’s efforts will awaken these reactions from organized crime. “He has put all of us at risk,” comments Father Javier Cortes, spokesperson for the Apatzingan diocese.
The archbishop of Morelia, Alberto Suarez Inda, publically scolded Padre Goyo and asked him to behave in a “more sensible manner,” at the same time advising, “act like a brother and not like an advocate. We need to help him calm down.”
Recently he was about to visit California to seek support for the self-defense groups among countrymen on this side of the border. However, the diocese of Apatzingan “forbid” the journey.
“Out of sheer discipline I’m not going,” said Padre Goyo. He comments that what he most regrets is not having the opportunity to let his Michoacan brothers in California know the reality of the situation in the state and specifically in the town of Apatzingan.
Though, for the moment, his denied visit to California might be the least of his worries. Recently, he decided to travel to Europe for a few months. He wants to gain some distance, but before departing there was an important event.
On Sunday, March 2, the people of Apatzingan had been gathered together in the central plaza around 5 p.m. to hear about the progress in the complicated process for reestablishing peace in that community.
Hours before, Padre Goyo had met with leaders of self-defense groups, some politicians, and an official from the National Commission on Human Rights.
The main topics: the formation of a citizen militia, the disappearance of people who had been the victims of organized crime, and a strategy to strengthen the connection between the people and community leaders with federal and state forces.
At the meeting arrived dozens of members of the self-defense groups from the mountains, where they had spent days in search of “El Chayo,” Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, who was beaten down by government forces last March 9.
News about the progress of the peace process in Apatzinga reached everyone slowly.
Doña Rosa Castro, who had not dared to leave her home for two weeks out of fear, remained seated that day on a park bench, listening to the good news.
Padre Goyo reminded them the people would participate at every step, verifying for themselves that everything is functioning with complete transparency by all parties involved in the process.
“I received a death threat from a man here in this town because I bother him, because I bother him, that’s why he’s threatening my life,” Padre Goyo told them, explaining he would be leaving for a time.
Hipolito Mora, one of the spokespeople for the self-defense groups, now in disgrace, confesses that his retirement from the scene will be temporary. The residents of Apatzingan want to believe the same, those to whom he’s brought light and safety, such as Doña Rosa, who appreciates that he gathered them in prayer and gave them hope.
There are some who say the priest wants to distance himself from the region called “hot territory” in order to return when spirits start to fall.