21 de abril de 2021
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The "Christ" of Peru's presidential race, from the cross into politics

By Fernando Gimeno

Lima, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- It's Holy Week and religious fervor is boiling within Peru's "Cholo Christ," who has decided not to endure Jesus' suffering on the cross for another year.

This year will be special because Peru's most popular Christ-like figure has made the leap into politics and is immersed in the ongoing election campaign.

Without putting down the heavy cross he carries every Good Friday while being whipped, the Cholo Christ made an unexpected appearance in the general elections - set for April 11 - as a candidate for Congress.

"This is the mission that the Lord has entrusted to me," 63-year-old Mario Valencia, the Cholo Christ's earthly name, told EFE, noting that he is running for Congress to represent the Lima district on the ticket of the small center-left indigenous National United Rebirth (Runa) party, where his list number happens to be 33, the presumed age at which Jesus died.

"I didn't ask for that number, but for me it's a prize that the Lord presented to me. I have great faith that our brothers will vote for this humble servant ... to achieve the best for the neediest because that is what the Lord wants," he said.

For the Cholo Christ - the word "cholo" a sometimes pejorative term for mixed-race Peruvians with indigenous roots - his entry into politics is the reason for his "resurrection" after surviving a five-story fall two years ago.

"The hospital director told me that the Lord put his hands where I had fallen because I had to fulfill a mission, and that's why I'm in this political adventure," said Valencia, who suffered multiple broken ribs, along with a broken jaw and serious injury to one lung.

Despite his near-death experience, in 2019 he once again took part in the Emmanuel theater group's Way of the Cross performance, but due to municipal anti-Covid ordinances he could not ascend - as had been his custom - San Cristobal Hill, Lima's most holy mountain since pre-Hispanic times, where each year thousands of people gather to follow him.

Only the pandemic could have kept him from his regular climb and everything indicates that in 2021 he will be similarly restricted.

"Not climbing the hill was my biggest sorrow," said Valencia, whose physical resemblance to the standard Western depiction of Jesus is undeniable thanks to his long hair and beard, gathered into seven braids that symbolize, he said, the seven last statements of Christ during his time on the cross.

"When I'm in the middle of people with the cross on my back, I stop being myself. The Holy Spirit emerges and the Lord appears. The first time I got to the top because I felt that the cross pulled me like a magnet and, since I felt myself to be the vilest, most contemptible and sinful man, I wanted to pay for all my sins in one fell swoop," Valencia said.

"Holy Week is the most important thing in my life, a spiritual, divine and very deep delight, because I can bring to my beloved Peru and to the whole world what Jesus Christ suffered," he said.

During the rest of the year, Valencia is a fuel truck driver and amateur soccer coach, but people keep asking him not to leave behind his alter ego and to come and pray at their houses for sick relatives.

"I do it with the best will and devotion in the world because I know that it's the Lord who's at work here. I'm just his instrument to improve things for others. It's beautiful, lovely," he said.

His election campaign is one of monastic austerity and thus not many people know of his candidacy except his followers on the social networks and residents in his neighborhood.

Despite his intense faith, Valencia said he knows that in Congress lawmakers cannot do miracles, but he promises to end the spiral of political instability into which Peru slid five years ago, something that more and more seems like it would fall into the miracle category.

He said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," and asks the Lord to pardon all those who created the political mess.

"I'm going to raise my banner of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation so that all of us Peruvians will forgive ourselves. ... We all need to unite to move Peru forward," the Cholo Christ said.

EFE

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