The Deacon's Bench

He may be the most unusual priest in all of Mexico — but he speaks to his flock in a language they understand.

His story, from the New York Times:

Frederick Loos was cussing like a sailor the other night, which was surprising given that he is a Roman Catholic priest and his foul-mouthed discourse was delivered from the pulpit to hundreds of faithful gathered before him.

He spoke of God, the need to serve him and how he can transform lives. But interspersed in his sermon was the most colorful of street Spanish, which brought smiles to the faces of many of the gang members, addicts and other young people pressed in tight to listen.

“When you go to China you have to speak Chinese,” the priest explained afterward, slipping out of his vestments. “If you’re speaking to kids you use their idioms. I don’t think God is offended if it brings them closer to him.”

Those enmeshed in Mexico’s thriving drug culture — users and traffickers alike — have an unusual relationship with the church. Sniffing glue and making the sign of the cross might not appear to go together any more than killing and the catechism. But for many believers in modern-day Mexico they do.

The huge flock that descends upon San Hipólito Church on the 28th of every month is made up of unconventional churchgoers, to say the least. Tattooed and pierced, the young faithful come from some of the capital’s most rugged neighborhoods, and many of them acknowledge that they run with gangs and use drugs. Drug use, in fact, is rife just outside the church entrance, where marijuana smoke fills the air and glue sniffing is the rage.

But a first-century saint that many Mexican youths have adopted as their own is having a mind-altering effect, as well. Thousands of young people from some of the Mexican capital’s toughest vice-ridden neighborhoods have recently begun making monthly pilgrimages to San Hipólito carrying candles, rosaries and effigies of St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate causes.

“I want to connect with God,” said a glassy-eyed teenager holding a St. Jude statue and sniffing glue, when asked about his religious fervor.

“Yeaaaaah,” said his friend, swaying precariously, also high on glue.

The youths arrive by subway, bus and bike from the capital’s roughest edges, eager for blessings. The church, somewhat uneasily, is trying to channel this unorthodox mass fervor. The Rev. René Pérez, the folksy parish priest charged with keeping the rowdy new flock under control, is hoping to reinvent St. Jude as an unofficial local patron saint of addicts. “We don’t have a magic wand, but we do want to take advantage of this faith they have,” Father Pérez said.

As a result, he accepts drugs in the collection baskets if followers care to give up their vices on the spot. He also brought in Father Loos, 74, an American who has lived in Mexico for more than four decades and whose barrio slang helps him to relate to the newcomers.

“It’s a tremendous phenomenon, and nobody understands it,” said Father Loos, noting that the drug use stops at the church entrance. “They are clearly in need of help for their many problems. They carry these St. Jude statues, some of them bigger than they are. St. Jude is something that has become close to them.”

Check out more, including video, at this link.

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