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BosNewsLife – Dozens of evangelical Christian families will be expelled from their homes in a town of Mexico in a case that has underscored growing religious tensions in the region in which at least two people died, a Christian news agency reported Tuesday October 4.

Compass Direct said about 150 evangelicals, or 40 families, will have to leave their homes in San Nicolas , Hidalgo state, by the end of October, according to a town council vote on Saturday, October 1.

Catholic officials in San Nicolas have reportedly accused the evangelicals of refusing to cooperate in work projects, charge Protestant leaders have denied. The day after the expulsion decision, locals blocked access to the property of the Independent Christian Pentecostal Church , Compass Direct said. They allegedly took away tools and materials to be used for constructing a church building.

“The evangelicals have not done work projects and have not contributed anything to the community,” San Nicolas official Pablo Beltrán Ibarra reportedly told La Jornada newspaper on Sunday, October 2.

The Rev. Pedro Olvera Rivera, national superintendent of the Independent Christian Pentecostal denomination has denied that evangelicals failed to participate in town projects.

The latest hostilities began when Ponciano Rodriguez, an evangelical Christian, died last August 18, and Catholics refused to grant permission to bury him in the San Nicolas cemetery. Rodriguez had been the chief instigator of a movement to expel two non-Catholic families from San Nicolas, but later became a Pentecostal.

Five years earlier one believer was killed and the Bethel Temple was destroyed, Compass Direct said. Since the incident Pentecostals have been meeting in a home and more families reportedly became ‘born again’ Christians. They had recently acquired the land to erect the church building.

The Independent Christian Pentecostal Church was established in the town 21 years ago and “religious persecution” first started there about 14 years ago when evangelicals’ water and electricity services were suspended, Compass Direct said, citing church sources.

Seven out of 10 people of the 8-thousand strong town community allegedly consider themselves Catholics and hardliners have used these statistics to combat the evangelicals, Mexican media reported.

A local Catholic priest tried to persuade the town to practice religious freedom by announcing through a loudspeaker, “We are all children of God,” but townspeople cut off the amplification as he spoke, Compass Direct quoted a Mexican media as saying.

These are not isolated incidents. In the state of Chiapas , town leaders also have tried to ban evangelicals. Officials in San Antonio Las Rosas have decreed that only Catholics may live in the town, Compass Direct said.

Last July, three evangelicals were jailed for 24 hours in the town to try to force them to move out, Pastor Esdras Alonso Gonzalez, coordinator of religious affairs for San Cristóbal de las Casas was quoted as saying. The three non-Catholics had to pay a fine of 1,000 pesos each ($93) to be freed, Christian lawyer Abdias Tovilla Jaime reportedly said.

On September 25, local authorities cut the electricity to evangelical families, causing them to protest to the state and further angering the Catholics, said Pastor Alonso in the October 1 La Jornada newspaper monitored by Compass Direct. An inter-religious council led by Tovilla is trying to mediate to avoid the expulsion of evangelicals.