North America - Mexico
Mexican town cradle of expanding faith-healing sect
by Juan Alberto Cedillo ("EFE," October 22, 2002)
ESPINAZO, Durango - This
dusty northern Mexican town is the cradle of a growing sect revering an early
20th-century boy healer who the faithful believe used dirty water and
glass-shard "scalpels" to miraculously cure the gravely afflicted.
The sect known as "Fidencismo"
currently has hundreds of thousands of followers in Mexico and U.S. border
states and, through its reputation for miracles, continues to gain converts,
especially among the impoverished.
"People's deprivations fuel the growing
appeal of Fidencismo," one of the group's healers, Jose Luis Diaz, told
The sect developed around the figure of
Fidencio Constantino Transito, better known as Niño Fidencio, who became the
country's most renowned faith healer in the period following the start of the
Mexican Revolution in 1910.
Each year in March and October, followers of
the sect meet for several days in the town of Espinazo - where Niño Fidencio
spent most of his life - to commemorate his birth and death.
Members of the sect told EFE that more than
100,000 people came to the October gathering - which ended this weekend -
seeking cures for their illnesses and afflictions.
These were record numbers for Espinazo, a town
200 kilometers (124 miles) from the U.S. border that is home to just 500
Fidencismo healers use unconventional methods
such as placing sick people in a muddy pond, using a swing to lift them in the
air or making them circle a particular pine tree, depending on their particular
Jose Fidencio Constantino was born in the city
of Guanajuato in 1898 and died 40 years later in Espinazo.
He used glass shards to "operate" on
patients and is said to have healed people with dirty well water and pine bark.
Niño Fidencio's reputation as a healer spread
beyond Mexico's borders and he was even visited by President Plutarco Elias
Calles, who sought treatment for a rare illness.
This October, Espinazo's dusty main road was clogged
with thousands of pilgrims, who crawled on their hands and knees while carrying
a cross, squirmed forward on their backs or rolled themselves uphill to arrive
at the Fidencista Church.
Inside the church, hundreds of people waited in
line to be cured by one of several barefoot "materias" (healers), who
dressed in a red, blue or purple cloak, a white tunic and a cap.
Before beginning the "healing," the
materia performs a ritual in which he or she enters into a trance and
"receives the spirit" of Fidencio.
Later, the healers run their hands and a
crucifix over the patient's body, and dance and sing with the patient
accompanied by the Northern Mexican music known as "norteña."
Once the patient is "healed," he or
she performs a type of penance, sometimes self-flagellation.
The final stage of the pilgrim's visit, which
began at the pine tree at the entrance to the town, ends in a dirty, malodorous
pond where the people are submerged to cure their affliction.
The rector of the Fidencista Church, Fabiola
Lopez, rejected the use of the term "cult" to describe Fidencismo.
"Those who visit Espinazo come because
they are suffering from some pain. Here, each 'materia' receives the spirit of
the Niño," Lopez said.
Lopez said the "church" originated in
1993, although Fidencismo is several decades old and has more than 1,000
healers in Mexico and the United States.
"Every materia has a congregation in their
place of origin and they assemble their followers for the trip to
Espinazo," Diaz said.
In Diaz's judgment, the present-day problems
and necessities of the poor lead them to Fidencismo, because it offers
solutions that are immediate and free, as the healers do not charge fees.
"Medicine is not the only thing that cures,
faith does too, and it's cheaper," Lopez said.