In Mexico, The Legion Of Christ Forms Elites

Vast sports fields, jets of water and solar energy panels characterize Anahuac North University. Founded in 1964, it is the flagship of an entire educational armada. Like its Jesuit rival, the Ibero-American University, it is known as one of the best private universities in Mexico and was built on the highest reaches of the country’s capital city – near luxurious homes and shopping temples favored by affluent youths.

A semester here costs the equivalent of $5,000. The Legionaries of Christ do not deny their true vocation: Our principal purpose is formation, specifically of society’s elites, according to spokesperson Roberto Sanchez Mejorada. Leaders of positive action are exalted on the campus. Of the Legion’s nine universities in Mexico, Anahuac North is the most comprehensive. It offers its six thousand students twenty-five degree programs. Nearly one in every five students receives financial aid. The belief is that an aid recipient today could be a company director tomorrow.

Notable among its fields of study are medicine and, especially, media. Anahuac has fully equipped studios for radio and television, making it unique among Latin American universities. Numerous well-known radio and television figures have passed through Anahuac, where posters encourage future media professionals to create programs which promote values.

Mexican law had long prohibited religious groups from owning media outlets, so the Legion formed ties to key figures in the fourth estate, notably Emilio Azcarraga, owner of Televisa (the largest producer of programs for the Hispanic world) and a graduate of Anahuac, who sponsors broadcasts of Telethon – a Legionary initiative. Anahuac extols personal involvement in its charitable endeavors – charity which transforms – thanks to the Altius Foundation, one of the pillars of the Legion. Its telemedicine service sends doctors and nurses to disadvantaged rural areas. Vehicles outfitted with satellite antennas allow them to attend to patients in marginalized indigenous communities and to carry out sonograms and other monitoring exams on pregnant women.

Thanks to a system of teleconferencing, the caregivers can in turn consult with experts at the Anahuac.

On one particular day, a young woman reports on the case of a forty-two year old patient who is in her twelfth pregnancy. The Legion likes to call attention to the high rate of childbirth-related mortality, but would be uncomfortable encouraging contraception. The Billings method (abstinence on fertile days) is the most effective for these often illiterate women, and the only one compatible with their faith, according to Dr. Pilar Calva, a genetician trained at the Necker Hospital in Paris. She is an unyielding opponent of abortion, which is punishable by imprisonment, at least for the doctors who perform it, in many states in Mexico.

It is, however, a far cry from the quasi Hitlerian period, when Legionary novices cried, ‘Heil Christus,’ while raising their right hands, says José Barba, a professor at the Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM). He joined the Legion as an adolescent, left in 1962 and has since 1997 been one of Fr. Marcial Maciel’s principal accusers. In spite of its ultra-conservative positions, the Legion has since its beginnings been differentiated, through its loyalty to the pope, from the most radical fringe of Mexico’s extreme Catholic right.

While setting up elitist establishments, the Legion at the same time has developed, through a system of aid and sponsorship, a network of some fifteen schools set aside for underprivileged students: the Mano Amiga academies. The schools’ detractors point out that the instruction steers students towards technical sectors, creating a qualified but docile intermediate level workforce which will be needed by the managers coming out of Anahuac. Nevertheless, parents from families of modest means sleep outside, waiting to enroll their children in our schools, says Laura Bautista, director of the first Mano Amiga School in Mexico. Other legionary strategies are evangelical missions, which take place one Saturday or Sunday a month, and the mega-missions, which take place during Holy Week, and which have the reputation of being extravagant successes. Their purpose is to simultaneously re-evangelize both the urban elites and the countryside, where Catholicism faces the expansion of other Christian sects. A recent census indicates that Mexico has more than 19,000 Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors in contrast to some 18,000 Catholic priests, while the number of declared agnostics has grown from 780,000 in 1970 to almost 3,000,000 in 2000. At the heart of their operations in the Monterrey region Legionaries also conduct courses on personal advancement for the wives of their staff members, who in turn invite the workers’ wives – a pyramidal structure typical of the way the Legion operates.

The Legionaries are pragmatic; they do not question labor exploitation, says Bernardo Barranco, commentator for Radio Red and the left-leaning newspaper, La Jornada. In Mexico they are to the right of Opus Dei on social issues, but in the moral realm they are extremely tolerant of the elite’s escapades. For Barranco this innovative movement has learned how to adapt the theology of prosperity-which grew out of certain Evangelical currents-to Catholicism, developing a system of aid to the poor while at the same time comforting the wealthy with the legitimacy of their privileges.

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