Two priests were killed in separate attacks in their churches in Mexico last week, bringing the number of clergy murdered in the last six years to 23, the Catholic News Agency reported. A third priest, kidnapped earlier this month, was found dead after suffering a suspected heart attack.
Fr. Juan Miguel Contreras Garcia, 33, was shot on 20 April inside St. Pio of Pietrelcina church, in Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco state. This followed the killing of Fr. Rubén Alcántara Diaz, the vicar general of the Diocese of Cuautitlán Izcalli, in the State of Mexico, on 18 April.
According to the Attorney General’s Office of Jalisco State, Fr. Contreras Garcia was attacked by two men who “entered the sacristy of the parish and straight away attacked the victim, fleeing afterwards in a compact vehicle”.
“The victim was found in the church with several gunshot wounds,” the office said.
Fides news agency reported that Fr. Contreras Garcia had recently been ordained as a priest and on the fatal day he had taken the place of another priest who had recently received death threats.
Fr. Rubén Alcántara Diaz, 50, was murdered with a knife in the church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, in the State of Mexico’s Cumbria district, just before presiding over evening Mass. The priest was found dead on the floor.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Mexico urged the authorities “to undertake in-depth investigations to clarify the facts in conformity with justice, to ensure that this and any crime in our country does not go unpunished”.
Meanwhile, Fr. Moises Fabila Reyes, of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, was found dead in central Mexico, Catholic news agency Crux reported today (26 April), after being abducted while on holiday on 3 April.
Fr. Reyes is believed to have suffered a heart attack, but his death was still labelled “suspicious” due to the fact he had been kidnapped. He was taken to the city of Cuernavaca in Morelos state, one of the most notorious regions for organised crime.
While the violence in Mexico affects everyone, “actively practising Christians” are particularly vulnerable, according to Dennis Petri, Latin American analyst at Open Doors, a charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith around the world. About 90 per cent of Mexico’s population identifies as Christian, but that doesn’t mean 90 per cent of the population is a target, Petri told World Watch Monitor last year.
“It’s important not to look so much at their identity as Christians, but more at their behaviour that results from their Christian convictions,” he said. “Whenever a Christian starts to engage in social work – for example setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic or organising youth work, that is a direct threat to the activities and interests of organised crime because it takes the youth away from them, so it is a direct threat to their market.”
A more obvious example of why active Christians are easy targets comes from the perception that churches and their leaders have a lot of money, Petri said, so congregations offer a ready source of cash – a group of thieves can simply enter, lock the doors and ask the congregation to empty their pockets.