Two Jesuit priests and man seeking sanctuary killed in Mexican church

Two Jesuit priests have been killed inside a church after a man pursued by gunmen apparently sought refuge in a remote mountainous area of northern Mexico.

Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar were killed on Monday inside the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua.

Violence has plagued the Tarahumara mountains for years. Cerocahui is near a point where Chihuahua state meets Sonora and Sinaloa, a major drug-producing region.

A statement from the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus in Mexico demanded justice and the return of the men’s bodies. It said gunmen had taken them from the church.
The Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office had not commented.

“Acts like these are not isolated,” the statement said. “The Tarahumara mountains, like many other regions of the country, face conditions of violence and abandonment that have not been reversed. Every day men and women are arbitrarily deprived of life, as our murdered brothers were today.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during his daily news conference on Tuesday that the priests were apparently killed by gunmen pursuing another man who sought refuge in the church. That man was also killed, the president said.

López Obrador said authorities have information about possible suspects in the killings and that the area has a strong organized crime presence.

Chihuahua’s governor, María Eugenia Campos, wrote on her Twitter account that she “laments and condemns” the killings, and said security arrangements had been discussed for priests in the area.

The killing of priests has been a persistent tragedy in Mexico, at least since the start of the drug war in 2006.

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.

The center said that 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 as he drove to mass. Another priest was killed in the central state of Morelos and another in the violence-plagued state of Guanajuato that year.

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

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