Naasón Joaquín García, the 50-year-old spiritual leader of the Guadalajara-based Luz del Mundo fundamentalist church, has been arrested in California on charges of people trafficking, child pornography and child rape, among others. The charge sheet lists 26 felonies committed between 2015 and 2018.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the investigation into Joaquín García – known to his followers as the “Apostle of Jesus” – began last year. Three female associates of Joaquín García, Alondra Ocampo, Susana Medina and Azalea Rangel, were also named in the complaint. Ocampo and Medina were detained along with Joaquín García, while Rangel remains at large.
According to prosecutors, the religious leader and his co-defendants carried out various sexual acts on four victims without their consent. They were told that refusing Joaquín García’s wishes would go against the will of God, prosecutors said.
"Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “We will do everything we can to prevent and combat these heinous crimes so that our communities are safe.”
David Correa, a spokesperson for Luz del Mundo, denied the accusations and said that Joaquín García’s honorable conduct was known to all. “We trust in the institutions of justice and remind all that everyone is innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
Bail for Joaquín García was set at $US25 million.
The arrest comes just two months before the Luz del Mundo’s annual “Convocation,” when thousands of adherents from around the world flock to Guadalajara for the church’s Santa Cena celebration.
Joaquín García assumed the mantle of Luz del Mundo on the death of his father, Samuel Joaquin Flores, in December 2014.
Started by Aaron Joaquin Gonzalez (Joaquín García’s grandfather) in 1926, Luz del Mundo describes itself as the restoration of a primitive Christianity, believing modern Catholic society and religion to be plagued by luxurious material goods and excessive behaviors.
Men and women are separated during services, ministers must be married, there is a strong emphasis on Bible reading and the denomination’s adherents believe in the second coming of Christ. The symbol of the cross is not recognized. There is no dancing, drinking alcohol or dating. Women wear long skirts and marriages generally take place within the community.
Work on the luxuriant Luz del Mundo temple, the focal point of Guadalajara’s Hermosa Provincia neighborhood and an easily recognizable structure on the city skyline, began in 1982 and finished a decade later. The housing surrounding the temple is sold or rented to church adherents at reduced prices, and congregation members comprise an overwhelming majority of the neighborhood’s population, with streets bearing names like Jordan and Nazareth.
Samuel Joaquin Flores took over leadership of the church at the age of 27 after the death of his father in 1964. Under his five decade stewardship, Luz del Mundo became the richest and fastest growing Pentecostal church in the country. Church membership expanded to an estimated five million people in 37 countries, and the church established itself as a political force in the Guadalajara area. Throughout his leadership, the Catholic Church frequently complained that Joaquin Flores sought political power and manipulated his relationship with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He was accused of securing preferential treatment in the provision of water and electricity for the Hermosa Provincia neighborhood, in exchange for encouraging church members to vote for the PRI.
As leader of Luz del Mundo, Joaquin Flores oversaw the construction of schools, hospitals and other social services provided by the church. In the 1990s, the church expanded from the American continent to countries such as United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ethiopia and Israel.
Abuse allegations leveled at Joaquin Flores and his church also received attention in the press, although he was never charged with a crime.
According to sociologist Roberto Blancarte, Luz del Mundo “has been the subject of an ignominious persecution, fueled by the most primitive prejudices and by outright obscure interests.”
The fifth son of Joaquin Flores, Joaquin Garcia said had received a divine message calling him to lead the church after the death of his father five years ago.
The new church leader said that he had sought counsel from God to help with the pain of bereavement when suddenly he received the message.
“I heard a powerful blaring voice, like a tide of rushing water. It asked, ‘why are you asking me to comfort you? You must comfort my people!’ I thought it was someone playing a joke on me but there was nobody there and I was surprised and scared. I fell to my knees. The voice said, ‘Naason, you are the head of this ministry.’ I told him, ‘no, not me.’ I said that when my father died I already had a destiny but he told me, ‘no, your destiny is with me and with these people that I entrust to you.’”
Last month, the Mexican Business Professionals Association feted Joaquín García in Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes for “promoting academic advancement, entrepreneurship and the pacification of society.”