A Catholic priest in Michoacán has called on the faithful to take up arms amid drawn out gang warfare in the state.
Rev. Alfredo Gallegos of Chucándaro has earned the nickname “Padre Pistolas,” or Father Pistols, for his habit of carrying a gun.
He described the threat posed by criminals in graphic terms during his sermon on Sunday: “The cartel gunmen come, they take the livestock, they screw your wife and daughter, and you do nothing,” he said in a sermon. “Well, get yourself a gun, the government can go to hell … We have to defend our lives,” he added.
Mexican law forbids most civilians from owning almost all firearms, except for extremely low caliber hunting rifles or shotguns.
The priest received support from Rev. Gregorio López in Chihuahua, who is known for wearing a bulletproof vest during Mass. “He is trying to be the voice of the people, and that is the feeling of the community, that they should be armed,” he said.
The violence in Michoacán is particularly bad around Aguililla, due to a territorial battle between narco groups Cárteles Unidos and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
Rev. Gilberto Vergara, a parish priest in Aguililla, disagreed with Gallegos’ proposal: “This thing about civilians taking up arms never ends well,” he said. “I would not behave that way [like Gallegos], but everyone has their own methods,” he added.
Although present, security forces in conflict areas limit their activities to acting as a buffer between warring cartels, the Associated Press reported. Vergara previously criticized the strategy. “The most shameful thing is the absence of the government, which has become a spectator in a war that has left so many dead, so much destruction,” he said.
Michoacán’s residents are used to the idea of self defense. Some took up arms in 2013-2014 to take on the then dominant Knights Templar cartel. More recently, the Pueblos Unidos self defense movement sprang up in 2020 in avocado growing regions, with farmers angry at gangs’ extortion demands.