Protests, prayer provoke change in Guatemalan government

Mass at the Divine Providence Parish, celebrated shortly after polls closed in this country's recent elections, included intentions. The parishioners prayed for the "people and pastors" of Guatemala, along with the country itself -- where citizens, protesting peacefully for months, forced a president accused of corruption to resign in the days prior to the Sept. 6 vote.

"Please rid us of this corruption and the leaders who have taken us down the wrong paths," prayed Father Hugo Estrada, Mass celebrant. "We ask that you be with this great nation of Guatemala."

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Guatemalans have protested and prayed and achieved unprecedented political change in their country.

In the election, a plurality of them then voted for comedian-turned-candidate Jimmy Morales, 46, an Evangelical Christian with no political experience, hoping his lack of a past in a politics would prove a plus in a country with an unhappy history of politicians enriching themselves at the expense of a mostly poor population.

The vote proceeded peacefully, as church officials had hoped.

Morales, known for a previously popular TV program, offered few specifics in his campaign.

"For me, Jimmy is a blank check," said Alejandro Quinteros Cabrera, an analyst for the election with Emisoras Unidas radio. "He presents himself as someone who will renew the system, but his proposals are pretty superficial."

Morales won 24 percent of the vote in a field of 14 candidates and will likely face former first lady Sandra Torres in an Oct. 25 runoff election. Torres divorced then-President Alvaro Colom in 2011 to avoid restrictions on running for president that year.

Elections followed the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina, whom Congress stripped of immunity from prosecution. He faces corruption charges in a customs office fraud case known as La Linea (The Line) in which government officials, including his former vice president, allegedly accepted bribes from business owners wanting to pay lower import duties.

Quinteros, who participated in anti-government protests, credits timing with pushing out the president; he said many lawmakers previously on the president's side "were afraid of not being re-elected."

Many priests and religious participated in the protests, too, although Quinteros called the church hierarchy response timid, with only an indirect call for Perez Molina to resign.

Other Guatemalans prayed for change.

"We joined (with Evangelicals) in a single cry to pray for Guatemala," said taxi driver Samuel Marroquin, who worships in a charismatic renewal congregation.

"We know that there's always been corruption," Marroquin said. "But in this government, it was excessive, so we had to put an end to it."

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