In a telegram to Mexican Bishop Trinidad Zapata of Papantla, Pope Francis has condemned the brutal murder of two Mexican priests, saying that they were victims of “inexcusable violence.”
The bodies of Father Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Father José Alfredo Suarez de la Cruz were discovered in a field on Monday, riddled with bullet wounds. The two priests had been abducted on Sunday from their church in the city of Poza Rica, in the State of Veracruz.
Although church officials have refrained from speculating on the motives behind the slayings, an article appearing in Vatican Radio noted that “Poza Rica and its surrounding territory has been the scene of drug-related gang violence and trafficking for many years.”
“The area where the priests were murdered is sadly renowned for the dominating presence of drug cartels,” Vatican Radio reported, adding that “the Church’s commitment to combat it is also well known there.”
About 28 priests have been killed in Mexico since 2006, without counting this week’s murders. Veracruz, Guerrero, and Mexico state are reportedly the most dangerous regions in the country for Catholic clergy.
In 1993, gunmen carrying AK-47s opened fire on the Cardinal Archbishop of Guadalajara, Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, spraying his body with bullets. Posadas had been a vocal critic of the reigning drug cartels, and he reportedly also planned to reveal collusion between certain government officials and drug kingpins.
In its 2015 International Religious Freedom report, the U.S. State Department said that priests in Mexico “continued to be targeted and received extortion attempts, death threats, and intimidation, often from organized criminal groups.”
In his visit to Mexico earlier this year, Pope Francis denounced the escalation of drug trafficking and violence in the country, telling a group of workers that the lack of opportunities for study and decent employment easily leads to situations of poverty, which is “the best breeding ground for the young to fall into the cycle of drug trafficking and violence.”
In the telegram, which Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent on the Pope’s behalf, Francis said he is praying for the eternal rest of the priests, for their families, and for the entire parish community.
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