Mexican church features 'traffic light' security warnings

(Photo: Reuters / Daniel Becerril)A Catholic priest distributes Holy Communion to the congregation as a green light is lit inside St. Teresa of Avila church in Monterrey, February 17, 2013.

A church in northern Mexico in a city afflicted by organized crime has been outfitted with safety-enhancing features to protect parishioners including a traffic light alert system indicating levels of safety outside and a tall concrete wall in front of the building's main façade.

St. Teresa of Avila, a Catholic church located in the Ciudad Solidaridad area of Monterrey in the northern state of Nuevo Leon has been using the system for nearly two years.

Monterrey, one of Mexico's most prosperous cities, and areas throughout Nuevo Leon experienced a spike in violence linked to drug trafficking in 2010. Over the past six years throughout Mexico more than 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence after the nation's president launched a military anti-drug offensive.

When a light located above a door near the church's altar is lit green it indicates that there is no danger. An amber light next to it indicates caution. A red light alerts parishioners to danger from criminal activity near the church, such as a shooting.

Some windows near prayer areas have been partially covered with cement blocks.

(Photo: Reuters / Daniel Becerril)An exterior view of St. Teresa of Avila church is seen in Monterrey, Mexico on February 17, 2013. A concrete wall has also been constructed in front of the main facade of the church for added security.

 The decision to add more security took place after a shooting in April of 2011, Fr. Scott McDermott, a priest from the United States at the church told AFP in a November 2012 report.

He said the shooting caused a crowd of people to attempt to enter the church while those inside didn't know what was going on.

"There was a lot of panic," he said. In addition, he said the parish has also hired eight guards at a cost of 12,000 pesos, or about $900 USD.

He said the wall in front of the church could help protect against grenades or stray bullets.

In addition, parishioners at the rear of the main worship area are able to see posters and signs with names and photos of people who are missing or have been kidnapped.

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