Members and supporters of community self-defense groups in the western Mexican state of Michoacan gathered here Monday to mark the one-year anniversary of their founding.

The event included a Mass and a procession in La Ruana, where residents took up arms a year ago to defend themselves against extortionists and kidnappers associated with the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel.

Backed by local business interests, the militias filled a vacuum created by the failure of state and municipal authorities to halt the depredations of the Templarios, who co-opted many of Michoacan's politicians.

"We will go on struggling as long as we can," the leader of the La Ruana militia, Hipolito Mora, said Monday.

"May we forget all of the bad, may we forgive as well and continue forward. To begin a new life, all of us, without grudges," the 57-year-old citrus grower said.

The Mass was celebrated in a chapel built by residents on a spot where once stood a veritable shrine to drug trafficker Nazario Moreno Gonzalez.

Moreno was the top boss of the Familia Michoacana mob, whose breakup led to the creation of the Templarios. Authorities said the capo was killed in a 2010 clash with security forces, but his body was never found.

After the Mass, students from La Ruana schools joined roughly 100 militia members, some of them armed, in a parade through the town's streets.

Federal Police and army troops have been deployed in Michoacan for the past month as part of a bid by Mexico's government to crush the Templarios and bring the militias under the formal control of the military.

Many of the Michoacan vigilantes have signed up for an army-controlled Rural Defense Corps. EFE