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Padre Pistoleros rides again…

26 December 2006

Gun-toting priest sings for social causesI’m not sure I’m happy to see the Padre back in the news… but I bet no one ever falls asleep during his sermons


El Universal
Martes 26 de diciembre de 2006

CHUCÁNDIRO, Mich. – This jolly 240-pound man isn´t dressed in red, and he doesn´t rely on reindeer to pull a sled. Instead, he drives a pickup and packs a .38 pistol as he delivers toys. And though he looks like a cowboy, he´s a man of the cloth.Meet Alfredo Gallegos Lara, the parish priest of tiny Chucándiro, in the central state of Michoacán, 200 miles west of Mexico City. Dubbed “Padre Pistolas” (Father Guns), the towering, singing priest will deliver toys to the neediest children this holiday season and bring smiles in a region torn apart by heavy migration to the United States and a violent turf war between drug traffickers.

“All that´s left for the people of this region is faith,” he said. “My job is to help them maintain, or restore their faith and hope.”

Padre Pistolas admits he´s unconventional. He sells CDs and DVDs of himself singing popular ranchera songs and uses some of the proceeds to fund good deeds and public works projects, which have earned him the praise of many locals. Among them is Blanca Nelly Calderón, a 23-year-old elementary school teacher and waitress.

“He can be full of himself,” Calderón said as Padre Pistolas dined on stew at her family´s restaurant. “But we judge for his actions, not for what he says, and he does more than any other priest, certainly more than the government.”

The padre praised the stew with a profanity-laced compliment.

“Ay, Padre,” Calderón said with a sigh.

In this traditional town, it´s his down-to-earth style, he said, that helps him connect with his parishioners year round, but especially during the Christmas season. He sees his job as ministering to those who sometimes end up on the wrong side of the border or the law.

The padre´s blunt style and gun-toting ways have brought him criticism from the Catholic Church hierarchy. His superiors have urged him to focus more on sermons than on being a showboat, said one church official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Padre Pistolas downplays the criticism, saying that a little profanity hardly compares to the highly publicized cases of pedophile priests who have scandalized the church in recent years. On a recent Sunday, his use of profanity during the sermon made some parishioners cringe and others smile or chuckle.

“Sometimes he can get under your skin,” said Efraín Tapia, 51, a rancher, “and you always have to be prepared to put your hands over the children´s ears.”

“Yes, I know sometimes I get on my soap box and let out a few too many cuss words,” he said. “But the church has more pressing moral issues to deal with. Also, my parishioners want someone they can relate to, not someone who will just stand up in front of them and preach.”

Sometimes after Mass he puts on his cowboy hat, tight jeans and crocodile boots and hangs out with parishioners. He´ll pick up his guitar and belt out a few tunes. He´ll take a swig or two of tequila. And he´s never far from his shiny black revolver.

About a half-dozen of his close friends have been shot, he explained. His church has been broken into, and three of his trucks have been stolen. He carries the gun for protection, especially when he goes into remote villages to give last rites to drug traffickers or hear a widow´s confession.

“I´ve never used my gun, and I never plan to, but confronted with a bad situation, we have the right to defend ourselves,” he said. “These are very dangerous villages.”

It´s his willingness to minister to all those who need help that has earned him respect.

The pistol-packing priest is raising money to renovate a crumbling church and to improve schools. He hopes to build a road linking the isolated community to a highway, funded partly by donations from immigrants in the United States. He serves as a link between immigrant communities in the United States and their struggling homes in Mexico.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 26 December 2006 2:09 pm

    i like this cabrón.

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