MICHOACAN, Mexico - In Mexico, federal police are engaged in all-out war against powerful drug cartels.
A cartel in southwestern Mexico even uses faith to justify its criminal activities.
Recently, a helicopter flew over a Catholic church in the state of Michoacan and arrested one of the heads of "La Familia," the most violent drug cartel in Mexico.
According to local authorities, the criminal organization sends tons of synthetic drugs to the United States and destroys everything in its path.
Operations like that take place almost every week here in Michoacan and faith has become a factor to consider in the war against drug cartels
What makes the "La Familia" cartel different from others is their cult-like use of religious faith to recruit and control their members.
Investigations by Mexico's federal police revealed La Familia uses their own version of faith and religion to clean up and justify their crimes, but also to promote group identity and recruit new members.
"This is not new in militant organizations like the Taliban," explained public security expert Pablo Monzalvo.
Monzalvo has directed several police forces in Mexico and says drug cartels are looking for loyalty and faithfulness from their members.
"When they claim a religious and ideological doctrine, they are going straight to the inner fibers of the Mexican heart," he said.
That could explain the level of violence by La Familia. Police call them murderers but members of the cartel says they're doling out divine justice.
Meanwhile, the innocent pay the price for the drug war.
A year ago, a grenade attack killed eight and injured 100 during the celebration of independence here in Morelia, capital of the state of Michoacan. La Familia has denied the charges and blamed an enemy gang.
Secretary of State Tourism Roberto Monroy was close to the explosion, but suffered no injuries. For him, terrorism stopped being something people just see in the news.
"It was a hard hit for Mexico and for Latin America, because it hit us where it hurts the most: our people," he said.
The cartel prohibits the sale of synthetic drugs among the people of Michoacan, ironically, as a way to protect their youth.
In a document found during a police investigation, the leader explained his beliefs with phrases like this:
"Is in your heart where the grace of god lays?" and, "Such is my pain that I don´t want to exist anymore, I pray to god for strength."
Local pastors are keeping their distance. They believe there is a huge difference between the god the cartel claims to follow and the God of the Bible.
"In this part of our country, 99 percent of the people consider themselves Christians," said Pastor Elias Andres. "But I wonder what god do you believe in? Demons believe in God too and they tremble, but where are the results?"
Pastor Fernando Delgado says churches are also paying the price.
"Some pastors have received threats and the son of a pastor was kidnapped accidentally. Thank God they set him free," he explained. "The preaching of the gospel has been affected, but we keep doing our part."
Next year, Mexico will celebrate 200 years of independence from Spain. Now, however, it wages another war of survival not against an external threat, but against an enemy from within.