Mexico remains the most dangerous country in the world for Catholic priests. In the last five years, 17 priests have been assassinated, 2 are still missing and 2 suffered attempted abduction.
Still on the danger list but slowly improving, Father Juan Antonio Zambrano García was attacked and wounded on 9th June, in the parish of San Pedro e San Pablo in Tijuana where he is the parish priest. Fr Zambiano was stabbed twice, first with a knife and then with a screwdriver.
On 15th May another diocesan priest, father José Miguel Machorro, was stabbed at the altar as he finished saying Mass in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico, suffering serious wounds which at first appeared fatal.
Last March, a priest was attacked in Coahulla, in Northeastern Mexico, by men wearing police uniforms. The Coahulla diocese asked local authorities to explain how a criminal group obtained possession of police uniforms and equipment, enabling them to “intimidate and threaten the population”.
According to Father Omar Sotelo, Director of a local Catholic Multimedia Centre, which every year carries a report on violence and homicide involving priests and religious men and women in Mexico. “Violence against the clergy has increased in recent years, but nothing concrete has been done to stop it. Our people, we know, are permanently exposed to crime, but especially now the priesthood is becoming a dangerous ministry. For the last seven years, Mexico has registered the highest number of priests murdered” said Fr. Sotelo.
But, why so many priests are killed? Fr. Sotelo pointed out that it is “because priests are preaching against injustice and violence. They’re defending migrants, they’re against drug trafficking. The priests often know who the criminals are, having seen them grow up in the towns. Eventually, some criminals begin to see that as a threat”.
He went on to say that older drug lords identified as Catholic, but the younger generation of crime groups are “so dehumanised they target just about anything”.
Father Sotelo said that “the vast majority of these cases presented a modus operandi: threats, extortion, kidnapping, torture and assassination”. The most violent areas are Guerrero and Mexico City, followed by Veracruz and Michoacán.