CAPÍTULO II


The Apostle

 

By Marco Lara Klahr

He has peculiar tastes, “The Servant of God” does. For this Guadalajara apostle, the showers of rose petals that young girls throw in his wake aren’t enough. Neither are the emulations of celestial choruses that surround him. Or the multitude’s deafening praises. Equally unsatisfactory is the golden sculpture depicting a prostrate angel, head between his wings, attentive to his divine message at the religious services. He always wants a little more.

Samuel Joaquín’s profile can be pieced from the testimonies of four of his victims; this is a man who has gone beyond the limits of self-worship, and who is dazzled by Alexander the Great’s image. Amidst episodes of drugs, lasciviousness and crime, he leads his flock under the mantle of La Luz del Mundo; “The Light of the World.”

“I am the King!” he often exclaims.

Three women and one man secretly travelled to Mexico City of their own initiative: “We decided to come and publicly denounce Samuel Joaquín to prevent hundreds of people from suffering further damage. We will also do this through judicial means in Guadalajara City,” where they live.

All four of them were born or spent the majority of their lives in the district of Hermosa Provincia in Guadalajara, home to the “International Headquarters” of La Luz del Mundo. “The Light of the World,” officially known as “Church of the Living God, Pillar and Support of the Truth, The Light of the World,” is the second most important Church in Mexico, surpassed only by the Catholic Church.

Founded on April 6, 1926 by Eusebio Joaquín Gonzáles, otherwise known as the Apostle Aarón Joaquín, and currently headed by his son, Samuel Joaquín, La Luz del Mundo affirms itself to be present in Latin America and Europe, with 3 thousand temples and 5 million parishioners, of which 1.5 million are concentrated in Mexico, particularly in the state of Jalisco.

At night, during La Luz del Mundo’s parties, the Guadalajara sky is illuminated by laser beams launched from the monumental Temple, thanks to 300 thousand dollars’ worth of sophisticated equipment. Standing at the heart of Hermosa Provincia, the Temple is 83 metres high. It is built to hold 15 thousand people, and has a zoo in its surrounding area. La Luz del Mundo’s PRI[1]-related origins are well known, as is the fact that its unconditional corporative vote is for the PRI, and its proximity to the old political class in Jalisco.

For example, every 15th of September a representative of Guadalajara’s Mayor arrives to give the “Grito,” the traditional celebration of Mexico’s independence, before thousands of Aaronites, as the followers of this Church call themselves in honor of their founder.

The Unconditionals

Fernando Flores Gonzáles, the only one of the interviewees who revels his name, is a 38 year old man, dark and robust. He occupied distinguished positions in La Luz del Mundo during the 22 years in which he belonged to it, which came to an end in 1995. Sweating profusely, he remembers being attracted by the religious group while studying high-school, and having to severe ties with his Catholic parents for that reason. Following his baptism at age 16, they began to prepare Fernando to form part of Los Incondicionales (the Unconditionals,) of which he became a part of in August of 1977. According to his account, the internal opposition that Samuel Joaquín was met with when he overtook the leadership after his father’s death, led him to create a sort of Guard, the Incondicionales; persons in whom he had absolute trust, including consorts and female private assistants, took control of all operative functions (administration and organization, finances, conducting groups and ministerial activities, and evangelism,) under an “unrenounceable vow of obedience.”

Consecutively, Flores Gonzáles became vice-principal of the elementary and secondary schools at Hermosa Provincia, Coadjutor of the Ministry of Culture and Christian Education, and Secretary General of the Federación Nacional de Colonos de Provincia en Jalisco[2], which belongs to the PRI’s Sector Popular, the political branch of La Luz del Mundo. The Sector Popular’s national Secretary General is the Aaronite minister Rogelio Zamora Barrados, who has been an elected Federal Congressman, and a candidate of the Assembly of Representatives of Mexico City.

Our Father Samuel

Mr. Flores Gonzales also had the position of accountant for tithes and offerings, and, eventually, due to his prodigious memory and a Master’s Degree, official historian of the sect. Like the rest of the Incondicionales, he enjoyed privileges and came to know the innermost core of La Luz del Mundo. He lived at Jericó 802-16, on the community’s main avenue. The back of this street gives way to a great garden, through which the homes of the Leader and his entourage are communicated. But Fernando left this Church, he says, when he found out that The Servant of God (as it pleases Samuel Joaquín to be referred to) had perpetrated rapes.

Papá Samuel, as the children call him, controls everything. So much so, in fact, that Fernando Flores Gonzáles says he did not previously know the woman who is today his wife. “They told me when to get married. I saw my wife for the first time at the moment in which she entered the Temple, covered by a veil. I only saw her face after the ceremony.” This is the reason why the apostle Samuel Joaquín often repeats before his flock that “for the women he is their bridegroom and husband; for the men, their bride and wife.” Besides this, the offspring of the marriages he “arranges” “belong” to him.

In order to move to another city, Church members must obtain a letter of transfer signed by this peculiar pastor. In 1991, for example, Flores Gonzáles requested permission to go work in the United States, due to the fact that with his salary as an elementary school principal he couldn’t support his family. He never received an answer, so he decided to leave on his own. But this small show of indiscipline caused his family to be harassed, so he had to return.

Flores Gonzáles particularly remembers August 14, 1992 (the Church’s most important yearly celebration takes place on this day. It corresponds with the founder’s birthday, and this calls for a re-enactment of the Last Supper which assembles thousands of believers from across the world,) when Samuel Joaquín said that “while in an ecstatic rapture he entered into a struggle with God, because God demanded to take the Church. People were crying and screaming and collapsing in the streets. That’s what this man does every time he’s in trouble.”

Fernando Flores also knew about the Vestals, a group formed by approximately 20 women, ranging from elderly ladies who are ex-lovers of the founder Aarón Joaquín, to young girls who have been given away to Samuel Joaquín and live in his house. He knew of The Servant of God’s constant headaches and migraines, and that in his office at the great Temple was the entrance of a tunnel that led to his house. A house into which Aaronite parents considered it an honor for their children to be allowed to enter: “My daughter was invited to Samuel Joaquín’s house, which we called the Royal House, to feed the birds and play with one of the princes, as we called the pastor’s sons. The fact that our children were accepted in the Royal House was a great honor and a reason to rejoice.” He had noticed, as well, that The Anointed One liked to be flanked by beautiful adolescents selected by the Vestals.

Nevertheless, even when he was harassed for going to the United States to work, his faith never wavered and he never suspected what was happening, until mid-1992, when he was visited by agents of Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior, who interviewed him extensively, asking him, among other things, if he knew of sexual abuses and rapes committed by Samuel Joaquín. Of course he denied that these things were happening, but soon after, Fernando had an unexpected experience.

The Scent of Vetiver

He remembers that on one occasion, Haidé Avelar Padilla, one of the Vestals, asked him, “Fernando, would you allow The Servant of Lord to beat you up if it would bring him rest?” and again, “If you were asked to sleep with The Apostle, would you accept?” Besides this, he remembers a scene which evokes disgust in him: “One morning I was in the library, and Samuel Joaquín asked me to return a book to its place. I squatted down, and at that moment he approached me. He put his hand between my legs and put his face so near to mine that I could smell the acute scent of his Vetiver cologne. At that moment a minister came in and he quickly separated himself from me.”

At around the same time, 1992, the interviewee recounts that “Samuel Joaquín called me, and when he was looking for you, you had to hurry, because he was The Servant of God.” On that occasion, the pastor was in the balcony of the Royal House, where a choir of young boys marched around the neighbourhood singing hymns, (among these, a hymn titled “Man of God,”) in an outburst, he asked. “Fernando, go and provoke the boys so they will give themselves to me! Go!”

Ever since then, the doubt having been planted by the agents of the Secretariat of the Interior, Fernando Flores Gonzáles began to learn about the private parties, cases of raped minors, and stories of abortions; he learned that sexual acts were filmed with pornographic intents, and, above all, that the very woman Samuel Joaquín had given him as a wife had been a victim of The King’s lasciviousness.

An Offering of Pornography for God’s Servant

Urbanistically traced in the shape of a star, the district of Hermosa Provincia is a separate reality that includes its very own Justice Ministry. Shops, public services, schools, homes, intimidations, consciences and hearts; everything inside has, in one way or another, something to do with the sixty-something-year-old brother Samuel Joaquín. Woe be to the Aaronite who dares have doubts, because, to begin with, there is a system of public loudspeakers which can be lethal; it is commonly used for announcements, but whenever necessary, it serves to unmask the “rebels,” those “used by Satan,” those who, for one reason or another, have ceased to believe in The Servant of the Lord. In retaliation, he excommunicates them and incites the crowd against them.

Leticia is today 30 years old and has 5 children. She still lives in Guadalajara, but “as far away as possible” from Hermosa Provincia.

She remembers being an adolescent and watching as some of The Leaders’ security guards beat a man in the middle of the street. Her mother told her there was nothing to be done, and that’s the last she heard of the whole affair. But Fernando Flores Gonzáles interrupts her, and completes the image:

The man Leticia saw was Ignacio Castañeda Contreras, who came to be a pastor and political representative of the district, until he found out that Samuel Joaquín raped young girls and enriched himself with the tithes. He dedicated himself to publicly denouncing him in the streets, and they said he was crazy. They assigned him a full time nurse and confined him to his house. On August 1st 1981, after the beating she remembers, they prepared his body for burial; all they said was that he died suddenly.

There have been other deaths, like this one, that authorities of the State of Jalisco aren’t in the least interested in clarifying. For example, Flores Gonzáles explains, “When they put up the Temple’s structure, a few of the people that were working on the high floors fell down.” To disguise it, “they would write down on the Death Certificate that the person had been run over by a car. It was all about avoiding any incidents that might halt the Temple’s construction.”

In 1992, after learning (thanks to a couple who were ex-members of La Luz del Mundo) that Samuel Joaquín had a habit of sexually abusing and raping teenagers, Flores Gonzáles became desperate:

I couldn’t speak with my wife. She was the least appropriate person for that because she, like me, was a member of the Incondicionales, and was trained to denounce everyone, even me. I myself would have done the same thing; when she did not wake up for prayer at 5:00 am, I would reproach her: “Don’t be lazy, get up or I’ll tell The Servant of God,”

In the end, however, he uncorked, “Hey, did you know that Samuel rapes girls? Did you know it?” She knew what her husband was talking about, but listened calmly until he screamed at her, “Bapsi, our daughter (who at the time was not yet 9) is frequenting the Royal House! Would you like her to experience something like that?” His wife answered by recounting a secret from her youth. The event is described by Flores Gonzales’ wife in her own words:

When I was 18, I was invited to the Royal House, where the Vestals Haidé Avelar and Carmen Rodriguez began to prepare me. They assigned me to the kitchen, where I had to serve the princes (Samuel Joaquín’s sons). One day, they took several of us girls in vans to take a trip around Puerto Vallarta. Upon arriving, Haidé Avelar took Silvia Capulín Peña (currently the wife of a minister) and I to a secluded beach. She said she wanted to take pictures of us. She gave us a big white hat and ordered us to undress and pose nude.

They resisted, but were advised that “these pictures were for The Holy One of Israel. (Meaning nothing less than Samuel Joaquín himself.) The Servant of God will see you. He should know you.” The next Sunday after the service, both girls went before Samuel Joaquín to offer him the pictures taken at the beach. He took a look at their naked bodies in the pictures and, pleased, without taking his eyes off them both, he solaced himself on his throne: “How good you look in these pictures, and how slim!”

Flores Gonzáles’ wife also experienced this other event:

We were invited to the pastor’s house in Ajijac (a riverbank town on Lake Chapala.) I was nervous because I had never come in before. They ordered me to go up to Samuel Joaquín’s room, where Magdalena Bravo was reading him a story about Alexander the Great while the rest of the girls were with him on the bed, dressed.

On this occasion, Carmen Rodríguez (another one of the Vestals, who had also been Aarón Joaquín’s lover) asked her to sit at the feet of The Lord’s Servant, which in turn ordered her to lie down beside him; “I obeyed, but I positioned myself with my back towards him, and then I felt his hands vigorously stroking my breasts.” Shortly thereafter, in 1982, Samuel Joaquín ordered her to be married to her current husband.

“Luz María,” demanded the mellifluous Samuel Joaquín, “lend me your sister to help me feel like a suckling cub.” Luz María saw no inconvenient in doing so, and Isabel, her younger sister, was left at The King’s disposition.

Before that, says Isabel, who is today 30 years old, “I had already been in one of The Servant of God’s private spectacles. At 17, I was invited to his house for the first time, and my job was to serve his table.” That is, until she experienced the celebration of one of The Baron of God’s birthdays.

It was a February 14, and the Vestals prepared her for a “private party,” selecting a group of girls, among whom was Isabel. They practiced Hawaiian dancing for days, and bought new outfits, although upon arriving at the Royal House for the party, they found out that they were to dance semi-naked.

The instructions were concrete: “You greet The Baron of God with a kiss, you put a flower necklace on him, and begin to dance before him.” And for disinhibitory purposes, the Vestals got Isabel drunk; she was “groped by Samuel Joaquín. He bit me horribly, leaving my entire body marked.” Haidé Avelar, a sort of chief among the Vestals, was capturing every moment on camera.

Violence Against the Vestals

On February 14 of the next year, (she can’t state which year exactly,) another “private spectacle” was prepared, this time with Arabic dancing. After the public ceremony, they went to the Royal House; “Magdalena Bravo and Haidé Avelar and I were reading aloud. I was ordered to take my clothes off. The man lay down and they gave him a massage.” That was when he asked Luz María to lend him Isabel, her younger sister, to make him feel “like a cub;” “He took my hand and guided it to his penis,” remembers Isabel, “while he punched me hard, very painfully, in the face.”

As a preamble, Carmen Rodríguez had warned her, “It’s an honor for you to perform this act with him. Do not be embarrassed. He is a man like any other, and also has his needs.” The last time The Baron of God abused her was at the Royal House, at dawn. Among the La Luz del Mundo brethren it is forbidden to consume alcohol, or to wear make-up, but on that occasion Carmen Rodríguez instructed the two adolescents about to be presented as offerings to “put on a bit of make-up. When The Servant of God comes just now, you must be complacent.” It was Isabel, the interviewee, and María who were there. He arrived inside a bathrobe, and lay down between the two of them. “He was biting me hard. He was groping us and forcing us to perform oral sex on him.” At the end, Samuel Joaquín got up and left in a hurry; it was getting late and he had to preside over the 5 o’clock prayer meeting. “Now we understand,” says Fernando Flores Gonzáles, “why he wakes up so late, and why he has constant migraines.”

Isabel hasn’t seen her family for more than 7 years, because they, upon hearing her story, deemed it false and accused her of being a liar and being “an instrument of the devil.” When she fled Hermosa Provincia her father warned her, “I’d rather see you dead than out of your Church!” He has never since spoken to her.

Offer him your Virginity

Leticia and Belén were neighbours, and they both shared something deeper than religion; both had been raped by Samuel Joaquín. Belén was 12 and Leticia, who is today giving her testimony, was 13. Leticia was still studying sixth grade; “They invited me to the Royal House so I could learn to bathe The Servant of God.” During that first session, she saw that in the bathroom there were five women and the pastor, all naked. As soon as she arrived, she was forced to get comfortable. A bit earlier, the Vestal Ana Medina had asked her, “What do you have of value that you could offer The Servant of God?” Leticia had answered with the candour of a child, “Well, only the school desk my daddy gave me as a gift.” All of a sudden, Ana Medina yanked her into reality: “Offer him your virginity!”

After this, which was undertaken as a sort of spiritual initiation, they took her to the Royal House’s main bedroom; “Samuel Joaquín undressed me, and lay down with me. He tried to penetrate me, but I was resisting and yelling at him that he was hurting me.” After seeing that The Servant of the Lord was becoming impatient, Magdalena Padilla, another Vestal, laid her down with a jerk and immobilized her for the duration of the rape. After this, at the age of fourteen, Leticia definitively broke away from La Luz del Mundo, but she says that the case of Eva Ambriz still haunts her: “I know they tied her up so they could beat her while Samuel Joaquín raped her, and then committed her to a psychiatric hospital.”

And so it is that The Anointed One is sovereign of Hermosa Provincia in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Not only because of his link to the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, but also because he has at his disposition a security corps formed by several dozens of handpicked volunteers from among his sheep, some of which, according to Fernando Flores Gonzáles, use “weapons reserved for the Armed Forces.”

The four interviewees agree that members of this corps, “along with some of the Vestals,” are responsible for buying drugs (they do not specify which kind,) in the districts surrounding “La Colina de los Cuatro,” to be used in the private parties of The Holy One of Israel.

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Translated and adapted from Días de furia: memorial de violencia, crimen e intolererancia (México DF: Plaza y Janes, 2001) y El Universal, May 20 and 21, 1997. pp. A1.



[1] PRI: Partido Revolucionario Institucional. Institutional Revolutionary Party, Mexico’s ruling political party for over 70 years. TN

[2] National Federation of Tennants of the Interior. TN