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Bishops in southern Mexico face threats from organized criminal groups

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Catholic News Service

 

MEXICO CITY - Bishops in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero have suffered threats from organized criminal groups as they serve a region rife with drug cartel activities and parishes located in impoverished indigenous communities where people eke out existences by cultivating opium poppies.

Bishop Maximino Miranda Martinez of Ciudad Altamirano was robbed of his vehicle after encountering a roadblock manned by an armed group in the violent Tierra Caliente region. Bishop Dagoberto Sosa Arriaga of Tlapa, meanwhile, was asked to pay extortion, but escaped making payment as those making the demands were run off by rivals. Read more »

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Mexican archdiocese: Companies that work on border wall are ‘traitors,’ ‘immoral’

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Catholic News Service

CUERNAVACA, Mexico — An editorial in a publication of the Archdiocese of Mexico City condemned Mexican companies wishing to work on the proposed wall being built on the U.S.-Mexico border as “traitors.”

“What’s regrettable is that on this side of the border, there are Mexicans ready to collaborate with a fanatical project that annihilates the good relationship between two nations that share a common border,” said the March 26 editorial in the archdiocesan publication Desde la Fe.

A view of a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States is seen March 7 from Tijuana, Mexico. An Archdiocese of Mexico City editorial condemned Mexican companies wishing to work on the proposed wall being built on the U.S.-Mexico border as "traitors" and called on authorities to castigate any company that provides services for fencing off the frontier. (CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters)

A view of a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States is seen March 7 from Tijuana, Mexico. An Archdiocese of Mexico City editorial condemned Mexican companies wishing to work on the proposed wall being built on the U.S.-Mexico border as “traitors” and called on authorities to castigate any company that provides services for fencing off the frontier. (CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters)

“Any company that plans to invest in the fanatic Trump’s wall would be immoral, but above all, their shareholders and owner will be considered traitors to the homeland,” the editorial continued. “Joining a project that is a grave affront to dignity is like shooting yourself in the foot.”

President Donald Trump ran on a promise of constructing a wall between the United States and Mexico and has signed an executive order to begin building the barrier on the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

The Mexican government has repeatedly said it will not pay for any border wall. Security analysts say illegal merchandise mostly crosses through legal ports of entry and express doubts a wall would keep out drugs, as Trump insists. Catholics who work with migrants transiting the country en route to the United States express doubts, too, saying those crossing the frontier illegally mostly do so with the help of human smugglers, who presumably pay bribes on both sides of the border.

Some Mexican companies have mused about working on the wall, though others such as Cemex, whose share prices surged on speculation it would provide cement for the wall, told the Los Angeles Times that it would not participate in the building of a border barrier.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso has urged company officials to use their conscience when considering work on the wall, though the archdiocesan editorial said, “What is most surprising is the timidity of the Mexican government’s economic authorities, who have not moved firmly against these companies.”

Desde la Fe has previously blasted Trump’s proposed policies. In September 2015, it called Trump “ignorant” and a “clown” and blasted Mexican government passivity in defending its migrants as unpardonable.

Father Hugo Valdemar, Archdiocese of Mexico City spokesman, said some conservative Catholics in Mexico viewed Trump’s positions on pro-life issues favorably and were still angry the U.S. ambassador to Mexico marched in the annual pride parade. But he said he knew of no one in Mexico that openly supported the U.S. president.

“What we see from him is an authentic threat and an unstable person,” Father Valdemar said.

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Priest found dead in northern Mexico, fourth deadly attack of a clergyman in four months

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — A Catholic priest has been found dead in northern Mexico, marking another attack on clergy in a country where the widespread violence of the past decade has not spared church leaders.

The body of Father Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes, 42, was discovered Jan. 11 in Parras de la Fuente, approximately 90 miles west of his working-class parish in Saltillo, while his vehicle was discovered abandoned in another state, the Coahuila state prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Details on the disappearance of Father Hernandez remain uncertain, although Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera Lopez said Jan. 11 that two suspects had been arrested.

Father Hernandez was last seen celebrating Mass New Year’s Day at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in a community known as La Aurora and was scheduled to take vacation thereafter.

Colleagues became suspicious when they were unable to reach Father Hernandez on his cellphone, according to a diocesan statement. His room in the parish residence appeared messy, with draws left open and clothing strewn on the floor, uncharacteristic for Father Hernandez, while his suitcase had been left behind, along with his reading glasses.

Neighbors spotted two young men driving away with the priest’s car Jan. 3, but Father Hernandez was not with them. Bishop Vera said two suspects had been arrested, though the authorities had yet to confirm the details.

“All of Mexican society is exposed. Priests are not spared from violence,” said Bishop Vera Lopez, whose diocese has worked tirelessly to provide legal and spiritual support for the families of missing persons in the state of Coahuila, which borders Texas.

Father Hernandez was ordained in 2004, had worked in the diocesan family ministry and was pursuing a master’s degree in family studies at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Study on Marriage and Family at Anahuac University.

“Father Joaquin was someone who searched for perfection in every activity he did; the desire to always innovate in his work was reflected in the love of the faithful, including during these past 10 days,” while he was disappeared, the diocesan statement said.

The disappearance and death of Father Hernandez marks the fourth time in four months that a Mexican priest has been murdered. Another priest, Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, was found alive with signs of torture after being abducted in Veracruz state.

At least 16 priests have been killed since December 2012, according to a count by Mexico’s Catholic Multimedia Center.

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Mexican priest kidnapped, found alive with signs of torture

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — An outspoken priest who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz was found alive, but with signs of torture.

Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish in Catemaco, a town known for witchcraft, some 340 miles southeast of Mexico City, was reported missing Nov. 11, sparking unrest and the ransacking and burning of the city hall by residents impatient with the police response.

Police officers guard the municipal building in Catemaco, Mexico, Nov. 14  after it was set on fire following the disappearance of Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish. The outspoken priest, who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz, was found alive, but with signs of torture. (CNS photo/Oscar Martinez, Reuters)

Police officers guard the municipal building in Catemaco, Mexico, Nov. 14 after it was set on fire following the disappearance of Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish. The outspoken priest, who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz, was found alive, but with signs of torture. (CNS photo/Oscar Martinez, Reuters)

A statement from the Diocese of San Andres Tuxtla said Father Sanchez was found “abandoned” Nov. 13 “with notable signs of torture.”

Father Aaron Reyes Natividad, diocesan spokesman, told local media that Father Sanchez had received threats via WhatsApp and Facebook, while the doors to the church also appear to have been opened with force. He denounced crime and corruption in Veracruz, where a former governor is currently on the lam for funneling millions of dollars of state money into shell companies, and also rallied residents against high electric bills.

“He was nervous, but nothing stopped him,” Father Reyes told Veracruz news organization blog.expediente.mx.

“We think that a lot of what happened has to do with what the padre said in his sermons,” Father Reyes said. “He gave the names of those responsible for insecurity, stealing from the community and generating poverty.”

The abduction and torture of Father Sanchez marked another case of clergy coming under attack in Mexico, where at least 15 priests have been murdered in the past four years, according to the Centro Catolico Multimedial. Many of the investigations in the killings have left church officials unhappy, but were reflective of a country in which nearly 94 percent of crimes go unreported or uninvestigated, according to a survey by the state statistics service.

In Veracruz, which hugs the country’s Gulf Coast, Fathers Alejo Jimenez and Jose Juarez were kidnapped and killed in September in the city of Poza Rica. Authorities said the priests had been drinking with their attackers prior to falling victim, a version rejected by church officials.

Another priest, Father Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen, was kidnapped and killed in the western state of Michoacan less than a week later. The Michoacan government initially released video footage purportedly showing him in a hotel with a teenage boy, but the family and church officials disputed the claims, forcing a retraction.

Church officials are at a loss to explain the attacks against them, though nearly 150,000 people have died since the country started cracking down on drug cartels and organized crime a decade ago. Priests in rough areas, such as Veracruz, have fallen victim to crimes, and it’s thought the motives for some of the murders include the nonpayment of extortion, robbery and pastors not allowing those in the drug trade to serve as godparents in baptisms.

“The aggressors have lost their respect for God and lost respect for priests, too,” said Father Alejandro Solalinde, an activist priest in southern Mexico on issues of migration and the target of threats from organized crime.

“This priest (in Veracruz) will not return the same,” Father Solalinde said. “He’s going to live in fear, going to live with the effects of this trauma.”

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Third Mexican priest murdered within a week, motives unknown

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — A priest abducted from his parish residence in the Mexican state of Michoacan has been found dead, the Archdiocese of Morelia confirmed Sept. 25. He was the third priest murdered in Mexico within days.

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. A third priest, abducted from his parish residence in the Mexican state of Michoacan, has been found dead, the Archdiocese of Morelia confirmed Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Diario Marcha, Handout via EPA)

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. A third priest, abducted from his parish residence in the Mexican state of Michoacan, has been found dead, the Archdiocese of Morelia confirmed Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Diario Marcha, Handout via EPA)

State prosecutors say Father Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen, pastor in the community of Janamuato, 240 miles west of Mexico City, died of gunshot wounds shortly after being abducted Sept. 19. His body was found wrapped in a blanket alongside a highway.

Family members, meanwhile, discovered personal items strewn across the floor of his home, and one of two vehicles stolen from his parish was found flipped over along a highway, Mexican media reported.

A motive for the crime is still uncertain, though family say they received no ransom calls as might be expected in a kidnapping case.

State Gov. Silvano Aureoles Conejo erroneously told Radio Formula that Father Lopez was last seen on video in a local hotel with a teenage boy. The boy’s family subsequently said the governor confused the priest with the boy’s father.

Cardinal Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia also called the information false.

“We pray for his soul,” the Archdiocese of Morelia wrote on its Twitter account, confirming the death of Father Lopez.

The abduction and murder in Michoacan continued a disturbing trend of attacks against priests across Mexico, though Catholic leaders are at a loss to explain the motives, which have included robbery, organized crime activity and possible conflicts with drug cartel leaders. The Catholic Multimedia Center has documented the murders of 15 Mexican priests in less than four years.

On Sept. 19, two priests were kidnapped and killed in the Mexican state of Veracruz, though the stated motive of the crime has caused controversy.

Veracruz state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras told reporters Sept. 20 that the “victims and the victimizers knew each other” and added that the attack was “not a kidnapping.”

“They were together, having a few drinks, the gathering broke down due to alcohol and turned violent,” he said.

Catholic officials in Veracruz rejected the explanation, calling it “an easy out” and saying it ignored the reality of a state notorious for crime and corruption.

“We are hoping for more professional and careful inquiry, because this declaration the prosecutor is giving generates more doubts than responses to the issue of the murder of these two priests,” said Father Jose Manuel Suazo Reyes, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Xalapa. “It surprises us how quickly they’ve concluded an investigation that requires more time and care.”

Father Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Father Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were dragged at gunpoint out of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Poza Rica, a Gulf Coast oil city consumed by crime in recent years, the Diocese of Papantla confirmed in a statement.

Media reported the men were found Sept. 19, one day after their abduction, along the side of a highway with their hands and feet bound. They were beaten and had gunshot wounds, according to media reports.

A driver employed by the parish also was abducted, Mexican media reported, but was found unharmed.

Violence has struck Veracruz clergy previously. In 2013, two priests in the Diocese of Tuxpan were murdered in their parish.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City encouraged prayers for the situation of so many clergy coming under attack.

“For those that injure and defame the church or its pastors, may the Lord grant repentance for their actions and with our prayers provide a path to social reconciliation,” he said Sept. 25 during Mass.

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Two parish priests kidnapped, murdered in Poza Rica, Mexico

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Two priests were kidnapped and killed in the Mexican state of Veracruz, raising the death toll of clergy murdered in Mexico to 14 in less than four years.

Veracruz state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras told reporters Sept. 20 that the “victims and the victimizers knew each other” and added that the attack was “not a kidnapping.”

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The priests were found murdered that day, just hours after they were kidnapped from the low-income neighborhood where they served. (CNS /EPA)

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The priests were found murdered that day, just hours after they were kidnapped from the low-income neighborhood where they served. (CNS /EPA)

“They were together, having a few drinks, the gathering broke down due to alcohol and turned violent,” he said.

Catholic officials in Veracruz rejected the explanation, calling it “an easy out” and saying it ignored the reality of a state notorious for crime and corruption.

“We are hoping for more professional and careful inquiry, because this declaration the prosecutor is giving generates more doubts than responses to the issue of the murder of these two priests,” said Father Jose Manuel Suazo Reyes, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Xalapa. “It surprises us how quickly they’ve concluded an investigation that requires more time and care.”

Father Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Father Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were dragged at gunpoint out of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Poza Rica, a Gulf Coast oil city consumed by crime in recent years, the Diocese of Papantla confirmed in a statement.

Media reported the men were found Sept. 19, one day after their abduction, along the side of a highway with their hands and feet bound. They were beaten and had gunshot wounds, according to media reports.

A driver employed by the parish also was abducted, Mexican media reported, but was found unharmed.

State officials said Sept. 20 that five men participated in the abductions and one of the suspect’s identities was known. Robbery of a church building fund was cited as a motive, Veracruz media outlet Plumas Libres reported.

“In these moments of pain, impotence and tragedy provoked by violence, we raise our prayers to the heavens for the eternal rest of our brothers and implore to the Lord the conversion of the aggressors. Of the authorities, we await the clarification of the acts and the application of those responsible,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a statement.

Violence has struck Veracruz clergy previously. In 2013, two priests in the Diocese of Tuxpan were murdered in their parish.

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Four killed when scaffolding collapses in Mexican cathedral

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY —A collapse of the scaffolding at a cathedral in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca killed four workers and injured 17 more, the Diocese of Tuxtepec said in a statement.

At least four additional workers remained missing as of March 4 and were presumed buried under debris, according to press reports.

The collapse occurred March 3 in the city of San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, 275 miles southeast of Mexico City. Civil protection officials were unable to explain what caused the scaffolding frame, used to support the under-construction roof, to collapse and send debris crashing down 70 feet.

The Televisa network reported the workers were on the scaffolding as it fell.

Press photos from the scene showed civil protection officials, police and an estimated 2,000 volunteers hauling rubble from the cathedral, which was to be known as “The Ship” for its unique shape.

The Mexican bishops’ conference released a statement expressing sadness over the tragedy and offering prayers for the victims and their families.

The bishops sent “our prayers for the deceased and most heartfelt condolences for their families, to whom we express our solidarity and unconditional support at this time of grief,” the Diocese of Tuxtepec said in statement signed by Bishop Jose Gonzalez Juarez.

 

 

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‘No more death, no more exploitation,’ Pope Francis says at U.S.-Mexico border

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Catholic News Service

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Speaking from the symbolic platform of the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis pleaded for the plight of immigrants while warning those refusing to offer safe shelter and passage that their actions and inhospitable attitudes were bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost their sensitivity to pain.”

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating  Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Recalling the story of Jonah and his instructions from God to save the sinful city of Ninevah by telling the residents that “injustice has infected their way of seeing the world,” Pope Francis’ homily called for compassion, change and conversion on migration issues.

He alluded to Mexico and the United States as Ninevah, the city he said was showing symptoms of “self-destruction as a result of oppression, dishonor, violence and injustice.” He also said mercy was a way to win over opponents.

He also preached urgency.

“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable areas,” Pope Francis said Feb. 17 to hundreds of thousands of people from both sides of the border.

“The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want to measure instead with names, stories and families.”

The Mass capped a six-day trip to Mexico in which Pope Francis traveled to the northern and southern borders and denounced the indignities of discrimination, corruption and violence. During the trip he also asked oft-oppressed indigenous peoples for their forgiveness and chastised the privileged political and business classes, saying their exclusionary actions were creating “fertile ground” for children to fall into organized crime and drug cartels.

Pope Francis delivered his homily a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande, which has swallowed so many migrants over the years as they vainly tried to enter the United States in search of bettering their lot in life and, more recently, escaping violence enveloping Central America.

The Mass was celebrated as a binational event with thousands watching across the Rio Grande in El Paso and in a college football stadium. Pope Francis saluted the crowds watching at the Sun Bowl stadium and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso for providing technological connections that allowed them to “pray, sing and celebrate together” and “make us feel like a single family and the same Christian community.”

The pope focused on migration, along with the dangers migrants encounter en route to their destinations and the difficulties of surviving on the margins of society without protections.

“Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest,” Pope Francis said.

Migration has marked Mexico for generations, though the number of Mexicans leaving the country is now surpassed by those returning, involuntarily or otherwise, as poor job prospects, an increasingly fortified border and anti-immigration initiatives prompt most to stay put.

Ironically, Mexico has assumed an unlikely role over the past several years: enforcer as it detains and deports record numbers of Central Americans trying to transit the country, while many more of those migrants are preyed upon by criminals and corrupt public officials and suffer crimes such as kidnap, robbery and rape. The Mexican crackdown came after thousands of Central American children streamed through Mexico in 2014, seeking to escape forced enlistment in gangs and hoping to reunite with parents living in the shadows of American society, working minimum-wage jobs to support children left with relatives they hadn’t seen in years.

“Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices. … They are brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said, while lauding the priests, religious and lay Catholics who accompany and protect migrants as they move through Mexico, acts of compassion not always popular with the authorities.

“They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives,” he said. “By their very lives they are prophets of mercy. They are the beating heart and accompanying feet of the church that opens its arms and sustains.”

“They are brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said. “Injustice is radicalized in the young. They are ‘cannon fodder,’ persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and hell of drugs. Then there are the women unjustly robbed of their lives.”

Pope Francis ended his homily by returning to the example of Jonah and his call for conversion in Ninevah. He called “mercy, which always rejects wickedness,” a way to win over opponents, saying it “always appeals to the latent and numbed goodness in every person,” and urged people to follow Jonah’s example.

“Just as in Jonah’s time, so too today may we commit ourselves to conversion,” Pope Francis said. “May we commit ourselves to conversion. May we be signs lighting the way and announcing salvations.”

Ciudad Juarez once held the dubious distinction of “murder capital of the world.” More than 10,000 lives were lost between 2008 and 2012 as drug cartels battled over a coveted smuggling route and young people were seduced by easy money into illegal activities that led to their deaths.

The pope’s visit was promoted by civic officials as a rebirth for Ciudad Juarez, though priests say the city still suffers vices such as exclusion and violence, in lower numbers than before, and jobs with low salaries and long hours in the booming factory for export economy, all of which strain family life.

 

Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.

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Bishop says Mexican mayor’s murder was message from organized crime

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — The assassination of a Mexican mayor the day after she assumed office was a message from organized crime and evidence of its influence in the area around the city of Cuernavaca, said the bishop who celebrated her funeral Mass.

“How is it possible that all of a region of the state is in the hands of organized crime, that people are paying protection money,” said Bishop Ramon Castro Castro of Cuernavaca, in comments published by the newspaper Reforma.

Gisela Mota takes the oath of office as new mayor of Temixco, Mexico, Jan. 1. She was killed the next day at her home by four gunmen. (CNS photo/Stringer, Reuters)

Gisela Mota takes the oath of office as new mayor of Temixco, Mexico, Jan. 1. She was killed the next day at her home by four gunmen. (CNS photo/Stringer, Reuters)

“This is evidence of our reality,” Bishop Castro said Jan. 3 outside the home of slain Mayor Gisela Mota in Temixco, about 50 miles south of Mexico City in Morelos state. “I’ve been saying it for some time and pleading, and no one has been able to do anything.”

He said Mota’s murder sends the message, “If you don’t cooperate with organized crime, look at what’s going to happen to you.”

“This crime is a signature act that characterizes the failed public security system in the state,” he said at the funeral. “I hope and pray to God that Gisela’s death helps to make us all more conscious.”

Authorities said Mota was murdered after assailants burst into her home Jan. 2, one day after she took the oath of office. Two of the suspects were subsequently killed in a shootout with police, while three more were arrested. The exact motive remains unclear, though Mota promised to clean up Temixco, a suburb of Cuernavaca.

Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez said the suspects belonged to a drug cartel known as Los Rojos. The mayor’s Party of the Democratic Revolution said at least 100 mayors in Mexico had been attacked over the past 10 years as criminal groups attempt to infiltrate and corrupt local governments.

Drug cartels have been fighting over territory in Morelos for much of the past decade, causing crime to escalate and damaging the tourism economy of Cuernavaca, a city once popular with expatriates and weekenders from Mexico City and known previously for its local pastor, now-deceased Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo, nicknamed the “Red Bishop.”

Former Mexican soccer star Cuauhtemoc Blanco, controversial for his on- and off-field behavior and a novice to politics, assumed office as mayor of Cuernavaca in late December, sparking a dispute with the state government over policing.

Ramirez took to Twitter to blast Blanco for backing out of a scheme for putting all police in the state under a single commander, a concept promoted as an attempt to prevent police corruption. Blanco, who won the last mayoral race with less than 30 percent of the vote, said the scheme was not working.

Bishop Castro has stayed out of politics and has promoted peace in the Diocese of Cuernavaca since arriving in 2013, although his work has not been without controversy.

Before the June election, he organized a Walk for Peace that resulted in attempts at a boycott and buses from one parish being prevented from leaving.

Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.

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Mexican official confirms pope to visit capital, three states early next year

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu has confirmed that Pope Francis will visit the capital, Mexico City, along with the states of Chihuahua and Chiapas, on the northern and southern borders respectively, and Michoacan in western Mexico.

People walk outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in 2013 in Mexico City. Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu has confirmed that Pope Francis will visit the capital, along with the states of Chihuahua and Chiapas, on the northern and southern borders respectively, and Michoacan in western Mexico. (CNS photo/Alex Cruz, EPA)

People walk outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in 2013 in Mexico City. Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu has confirmed that Pope Francis will visit the capital, along with the states of Chihuahua and Chiapas, on the northern and southern borders respectively, and Michoacan in western Mexico. (CNS photo/Alex Cruz, EPA)

“The details will be known in December,” she said Nov. 11, acknowledging where the pope will travel early next year. Spokesmen for dioceses in the three states and Mexico City confirmed details when contacted by Catholic New Service.

Most notably, Pope Francis is exploring the possibility of visiting the previously problematic border city of Ciudad Juarez, where a battle between drug cartels during the past decade cost more than 10,000 lives in a four-year period.

The Vatican’s papal planning team, along with representatives of the Mexican government, visited in preparation for a possible trip, which would include encounters with the community, priests and seminarians and perhaps a prison visit in a lockup previously considered the worst in Latin America.

“The probability is very high that he comes to Juarez,” said Father Hesiquio Trevizo, spokesman for the Diocese of Ciudad Juarez.

Pope Francis is also expected to visit Chiapas, the least-Catholic state in Mexico, where a portion of the mostly indigenous population has abandoned the church for Protestant congregations. Father Pedro Arriaga, spokesman for the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas, says the visit comes as the Vatican, under Pope Francis’ leadership, looks favorably on celebrating Mass in local languages, now a reality in Chiapas, and the ordination of indigenous deacons, something previous popes ended.

The pope’s approach coincides with that of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who led the diocese for four decades until 1999, Father Arriaga said. The bishop focused on the indigenous, “the periphery,” and addressing both poverty and the environment, the priest said.

In Michoacan, to the west of Mexico City, the pope will find a state still struggling with outward migration and violence from a quasi-religious drug cartel known as Knights Templar, which operated in the long-neglected Tierra Caliente region. The Knights Templar preached its home-spun version of the Gospel as it made methamphetamines in clandestine labs and extorted locals. Self-defense groups formed in 2013 in response and often operated with the blessing of priests in the Diocese of Apatzingan.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City has announced Pope Francis will arrive Feb. 12 in what’s the world’s second-most populous Catholic country, where politicians are consumed with issues such as violence, corruption and a way to win legitimacy through appearances with the pontiff. The trip, if carried out as proposed, would allow the pope to address issues such as poverty, migration, violence and indigenous issues, along with visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the world’s most visited Marian shrine.

Earlier, Pope Francis said he wanted to visit Ciudad Juarez in 2015 and cross the border into neighboring El Paso, Texas, in an act of solidarity with migrants, many of whom transit Mexico in attempts to reach the United States.

Father Trevizo said such a crossing is unlikely on the 2016 papal visit. He said the border visit would be for a day and expressed hopes the papal visit would “reinforce the faith” in a city with growing non-Catholic congregations and still scarred by the violence erupting after rival cartels disputed a coveted drug-trafficking corridor.

“It’s a city that has experienced conflicts,” he said. “It’s lived through deep crises such as the killing of so many women, the war against drug trafficking, which left more lives lost than a traditional war.”

Ciudad Juarez, which mushroomed as factories for export were built near the U.S. border, became notorious for murdered and missing women, whose cases went unsolved and unpunished. Drug violence exploded late in the past decade and hit the city especially hard, along with factories suspending operations due to the 2008 world economic crisis.

The economy has bounced back, but the conditions in the maquiladoras, as the export factories are known, are not always ideal, and priests say the conditions led to situations of both parents working long hours make ends meet, while children were left without guidance.

“There is plenty of work, but it’s poorly paid,” said Father Roberto Luna, pastor at the Corpus Christi Parish, where crime was so bad that thieves stole the church bell. “People worry about losing their jobs, but, at the same time, they’re looking to make more.”

Violence has diminished to the point Ciudad Juarez, with a population of 1.3 million, registered just 17 homicides in October, though priests caution the issue is not entirely resolved.

The local prison, where a riot left 18 dead in 2011, is also being renovated to eliminate issues such as overcrowding and inmates running the institution.

“Violence has increased in other parts of Mexico,” Father Luna says. “It’s has taken attention away from Juarez.”

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