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"It is like a little state within a state," said Juan Carlos Ruiz Guadalajara, a historian at San Luis College who has studied the community extensively. "Here, the laws of Mexico don’t mean anything, they are ruled by a sort of traditionalist Catholicism."
"But that has set up a confrontation between them ... and the new generation of children born in New Jerusalem," he said.
The church’s authorities allowed The Associated Press to tour the compound on the condition that none of the residents could give formal interviews or be quoted by name. They said the restrictions were necessary because news media had identified believers as "fanatics" in previous reports.
The sect’s strict rules are clearly spelled out on the wall of the gates: "No entry for women with short skirts, pants, low-cut or sleeveless blouses, makeup or fingernail polish, or uncovered heads, nor men with long hair or dishonest dress."
Inside, a huge cross dominates the main street, bordered on each side by the one-story homes of the faithful. Men with rosaries around their necks, and women in headscarves and robes, go about their daily routines of prayer and work.
Girls under 11 are known as "Juanitas" and wear yellow head scarves, while single adolescent and adult women are known as "Damsels" and wear blue. There are eight such orders.
Further down the main street is the "basilica," which houses the church’s holiest site, the chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Inside the chapel is the tomb of Papa Nabor, who died in 2008, and an image of the Virgin that appeared to Mama Salome, who died in 1981.
The leadership of the church has fallen to the daughter of the church’s former clairvoyant, who calls herself a spokesperson, and the current "bishop," who calls himself Martin de Tours.
As its principal commitment, the community keeps up a 24-hour-a-day chain of prayer in the Virgin’s chapel, which the faithful believe is the only activity that can save the world. They also believe the entry of "bad habits" could break that delicate thread.
For the true followers of Nueva Jerusalen, allowing such a break is simply unthinkable, and that promises to harden the confrontation under way here.
"What is more important ... the right to life, or the right to an education?" the sect’s legal representative, Juan Carlos Tellez, said in a speech at the compound Monday. "The people will defend their rights with their lives. They will not allow a community built with great sacrifice over 39 years, by the labor of its inhabitants, to be destroyed from one day to the next."
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