Jesuit priest killed by gunmen at church in northern Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) – The Mexican branch of the religious order announced Tuesday that two elderly Jesuit priests were killed inside a church where a man chased by gunmen apparently took refuge in a remote mountainous area in northern Mexico. Was asked

Javier Campos Morales, 79, and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, 80, were killed inside a church in Cerrocahui, Chihuahua state, on Monday.

Officials said they were apparently killed after a man on the run from a drug gang took refuge in the church. The gang apparently chased and captured him, and killed all three.

The Chihuahua government, María Eugenia Campos, confirmed the death of a third person unidentified. But President Andres Manuel López Obrador said during his daily news conference that the man fleeing the gunmen was also killed.

The state government later identified the third person as a tourist guide, and said he had been kidnapped and apparently taken to the church by gunmen.

The governor said the killings caused “deep anger, outrage and pain” and “shaken us to the depths of us.”

López Obrador said authorities were aware of potential suspects in the killings and added that the area has a strong organized crime presence.

Violence has plagued the Tarahumara Mountains for years. The rugged, pine-clad region is home to the indigenous group of the same name. Cerrocahui is near the 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 bodies of men. It said the gunmen had taken both their bodies from the church.

“Such acts are not isolated,” the statement said. “The Tarahumara Mountains, like many other regions of the country, face situations of violence and abandonment that have not been reversed. Every day men and women are arbitrarily denied life, like our slain brothers today Were. “

For some reason, the gunmen did not kill the third priest in the church, but Nars Santibenez, the press director of the Jesuits in Mexico, said his request to leave the bodies of two of his associates declined.

The surviving priest said that two of his associates were shot from close range.

The Tarahumara diocese said in a statement that “the killers, not satisfied with their murder, have taken their bodies … leaving the pain, sadness and resentment among all of us who wish to mourn them.”

The killings of clergy have been a frequent tragedy in Mexico, at least since the start of the drug war in 2006.

Rev. Gilberto Guevara serves the parish of Aguilla in the western state of Michoacán, a city that has been on the front lines of cartel turf wars over the years. Three priests have been murdered in the area in the past decade.

“The danger is always there,” Guevara said of working in a cartel-dominated area. “They respect us until we get in the way, just as the government respects us as long as we are useful to them.”

The church’s Catholic Multimedia Center said seven priests had 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.

On May 15, a priest who runs a migrant shelter in the northern border town of Teket was found dead in a field, the Center said.

In 2021, a Franciscan priest died after he was caught in the shootings of a drug gang in the north-central state of Zacatecas while he went to Mass. Another priest was killed in the central state of Morelos and another was plagued by violence. State of Guanajuato that year.

In 2019, a priest was stabbed to death in Matamoros, the northern border town of Brownsville, Texas.

The governor of Chihuahua wrote on her Twitter account that she “lamented and condemned” the killings and added that security arrangements for priests in the area were discussed.

Campos Morales was ordained a priest in 1972 and spent nearly half a century working in parishes in the Tarahumara region, which is known for its poverty and natural beauty.

Mora Salazar was hired in 1971 and worked at the Tarahumara in the 1970s and 80s before returning full-time in 2000.

The Tarahumara people, who like the name Raramuri, faced centuries of poverty, exclusion and exploitation, with woodcutter plundering their forests and drug gangs cultivating marijuana and opium in the mountains.

The Jesuits began missions among the Raramuri in the 1600s but were expelled by Spain in 1767. They returned around 1900.

The indigenous community has gained worldwide fame for their skill of running dozens of miles through their mountainous region, often in leather sandals or barefoot, and inspired and competed in ultra-long-distance walking.

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