Prayers needed for Mexico's Catholics

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Masses suspended in Mexican cathedral after left-wing attacks

Church officials closed and locked Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral and suspended all services after about 150 left-wing protesters stormed into a Sunday Mass shouting slogans and kicking over pews.

Fr Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Mexico City Archdiocese, said on Monday that the cathedral would not resume Masses until police could guarantee security. It is the first time the cathedral has suspended services since Mexico's Cristero uprisings in the 1920s.

"We have to take this action before there is bloodshed," Fr Valdemar said. "We need police to launch a public campaign showing we are being protected."

Left-wing leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost the 2006 presidential race by a razor-thin margin, was leading a protest in the square next to the cathedral. Lopez Obrador claims the election was rigged and calls himself Mexico's "legitimate president."

The ringing of the church bells during one of the rally's speeches angered the demonstrators.

A breakaway group stormed past a line of police and charged up the cathedral aisle. They finally left after the bells stopped ringing and other protesters called for moderation.

Fr Ruben Avila Blancas, who was in the church, described it as an act of terrorism.

"The protesters came in threatening and assaulting. Many of the faithful were injured: old people, crying children," Father Avila said. "We cannot go on like this."

Lopez Obrador, who says he wants to lift millions of Mexicans out of poverty, has always described his movement as nonviolent and says he supports demonstrations and civil resistance.

He accused Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of supporting President Felipe Calderon during the 2006 election campaign. Mexico's 1917 Constitution bans clergy from any intervention in politics.

Cardinal Rivera's vocal opposition to Mexico City laws permitting abortion and gay civil unions also angers leftists.

Cardinal Rivera was in Rome when the incident happened but has voiced full support for the suspension of Masses, Fr Valdemar said.
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