Mexican bishops call for day of prayer against crippling violence

Indigenous women pray over the coffins of Jesuit father Javier Campos and Joaquín Mora during their funeral mass at the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus church in Chihuahua, Mexico, June 25, 2022. The two priests were murdered at the parish on June 20 as they offered refuge to a tour guide seeking protection. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

by David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Mexico’s Catholic leaders are calling for a day of prayer as violence continues to cripple the country and priests and bishops raise their voices on an issue that pits them against Mexico’s popular president.

The Mexican Episcopal Conference, the Jesuits and the Mexican Conference of Religious Superiors have asked dioceses, parishes and religious congregations to celebrate Masses and pray for peace on July 10 “in significant places that represent” the more than 250,000 Mexicans murdered and 100,000 missing in the past 15 years of violence, fueled by clashes with drug cartels.

“There is a wound to heal and there is the strength the country needs today to build peace. Remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus, in these places, will transform fear into strength to build peace,” said the invitation from the conference of bishops, Jesuits and the conference of major superiors of religious of the Mexico.

“Our proposal is social dialogue to build a path of justice and reconciliation that leads us to peace. … We are faced with a complex problem, which demands that everyone tackle it from its root causes and thus allow the risen Christ to bring a new perspective, making it possible to build the agreements that Mexico needs today.

The promotion of a day of prayer follows a period of unprecedented outspokenness about crime and violence from Catholic leaders following the murders of Jesuit fathers Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, who were killed in their northern Chihuahua state parish on June 20 while sheltering a man fleeing a known crime boss.

The call to prayer also comes as Mexico’s president pushes back on calls from bishops and priests to change a ‘hugs, no bullets’ security strategy, which remains ill-defined but has failed to calm the country or curbing impunity.

“‘Hugs, not bullets’ is demagogic and, to some extent, complicit,” Bishop Ramón Castro Castro, the conference’s general secretary, said July 3 after a peace march in Cuernavaca.

“It will never be lawful or legal for civil authorities to relinquish their responsibility for social security and peace, for which they have the power and legitimate use of force.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has responded angrily to calls from the Church for a new security strategy, accusing the bishops of hypocrisy, of being tied to the oligarchy – the old elites whom he sees as political opponents – and even to have a “black hand” manipulating them. He even quoted Pope Francis in an attempt to shame bishops, saying the message from the pope’s trip to Mexico in 2016 was uncomfortable for the church hierarchy.

“No political or religious leader has spoken so clearly about Mexico’s problems as Pope Francis during this visit,” said López Obrador, adding that he “identifies” with the pope, although he does not has ever publicly identified as a Catholic.

“I am absolutely convinced that violence cannot be confronted with more violence. Enough coercive measures,” the president added. “It is a conservative and authoritarian conception.”

Priests contacted by Catholic News Service say the president misinterpreted their calls for a change in security strategy, mistaking them for a political attack.

“‘Hugs, not bullets’ is illogical,” said Jesuit Father Javier Ávila, who works in the same rugged Sierra Tarahumara region as the slain priests. “We are not asking for criminals to be killed. Of course not. Simply that they apply the law, prosecute the criminals and that they are judged according to the law.

Church watchers say Mexican bishops have traditionally been soft on the issue of crime and corruption because such statements can endanger priests and prelates and cause uncomfortable relations with local elites.

However, the tone has changed since the Jesuit murders, with bishops who have traditionally remained silent on security sharing stories of being stopped at illegal checkpoints operated by drug cartels and extorted parishes.

“The tone was the same. But it must be said that the tone has never been one of violence or confrontation with a government,” said Father Antonio Gutiérrez, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Guadalajara, where Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega revealed that some parishes paid extortion fees.

“Recipients feel it more strongly because they talk about opposite things or show specific attitudes, but the tone of the church will always be one of rapprochement, dialogue and concern for peace.”

Father Ávila attributed the outcry to the murder of priests, saying the tone of criticism of the church had reached levels not heard since the 1993 murder of Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, who was shot dead at the airport of Guadalajara.

Sister Juana Ángeles Zárate of the Conference of Major Superiors of Religious in Mexico said concerns about violence and the Church’s response were expressed during local preparatory meetings for the 2023 synod of bishops on synodality. She also said that many clerics work in isolated areas, where violence is rampant and security is deteriorating.

“We suffered threats,” said Sister Juana, a member of the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart. “There are communities where we have had to take in people who have been shot or run over. … We are still in this vulnerable situation where they can attack us.

Comments are closed.