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Two Jesuit priests were killed inside a church where a man pursued by gunmen allegedly sought refuge in a remote mountainous region in northern Mexico, the religious order’s Mexican branch said on Tuesday.
Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar were killed Monday inside the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua.
Violence has plagued the Tarahumara Mountains for years. Cerocahui is close to a point where the state of Chihuahua meets Sonora and Sinaloa, a major drug-producing region.
A statement from the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus in Mexico called for justice and the return of the men’s bodies. He said armed men took them from the church.
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“Acts like these are not isolated,” the statement said. “The Tarahumara Mountains, like many other parts of the country, face conditions of violence and neglect that have not been reversed. Every day, men and women are arbitrarily deprived of life, as our brothers murdered today.”
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in his daily press conference on Tuesday that the priests had apparently been killed by gunmen pursuing another man who had sought refuge in the church. This man was also killed, the president said.
López Obrador said authorities had information on possible suspects in the murders and that the area had a strong organized crime presence.
For some reason, the gunmen did not kill a third priest who was at the church, but refused his calls to leave the bodies of his two colleagues, said Narce Santibañez, press director of the Jesuits in Mexico.
The surviving priest said his two colleagues were shot at close range.
The killing of priests has been an ongoing tragedy in Mexico, at least since the war on drugs began in 2006.
Reverend Gilberto Guevara serves in the parish of Aguililla in the western state of Michoacan, a town that has been on the front lines of cartel turf wars for years. Three priests have been killed in the area over the past decade.
“The danger is still there,” Guevara said of his work in the cartel-dominated region. “As long as we don’t get in their way, they respect us, just like the government respects as long as we are useful to them.”
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The church’s Catholic Multimedia Center said seven priests have been murdered under the current administration, which took office in December 2018, and at least two dozen under the former president, who took office in 2012.
The center said in 2021 a Franciscan priest died when he was caught in the crossfire of a drug gang shootout in the north-central state of Zacatecas on his way to mass. . Another priest was killed in the central state of Morelos and another in the violence-ridden state of Guanajuato that year.
In 2019, a priest was stabbed to death in the northern border town of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas.
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Chihuahua Governor Maria Eugenia Campos wrote on her Twitter account that she “deplores and condemns” the killings, and said security arrangements were discussed for priests in the area.
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