Peace must be a priority, Catholic leaders say on the anniversary of the violent deaths of priests in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Two years have passed since a leader of one of Mexico’s organized crime gangs stormed into a Catholic church in the remote Tarahumara Mountains and shot dead two Jesuit priests.

For many faith leaders across the country, the pain unleashed on June 20, 2022 — when the Rev. Javier Campos Morales, 79, and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, 80, were murdered by a local gang leader — has not faded. Not them either search for peace.

“The murders of Fathers Javier and Joaquín have allowed us to redefine the pain that lives in the hearts of many corners of the country,” Mexico’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a news release on Thursday. “To build a shared movement with peace as its horizon and the victims of violence as its starting point.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obradorhas avoided direct confrontation with the US since taking office in 2018 cartels and violent gangs controlling and terrorizing local communities. His “hugs, no bullets” policy has drawn widespread criticism from faith leaders, human rights groups and journalists who have echoed the fear and anger of the victims.

Organized crime has long controlled large swaths of territory in states such as Guerrero, Guanajuato and Michoacan. Many people have been driven out of Chiapas’ rural villages by warring cartels.

About twenty candidates were killed beforehand June 2 electionswhen the Mexicans elected Claudia Sheinbaum as their first female president.

Both Sheinbaum and López Obrador have rejected any criticism of the government’s security strategies, claiming that homicide rates fell during the last administration. Church leaders, on the other hand, have repeatedly said that Mexico is suffering from a “deep crisis of violence and social dissolution.”

In memory of the 2022 killings, the bishops’ conference, the Jesuits of Mexico and some other national religious organizations announced on Thursday a third phase of the “National Peace Dialogue.” They demanded concrete actions to tackle nationwide violence.

Over the past two years, the initiative has brought together civil society, academics, victims of violence and businesspeople seeking solutions to achieve justice, security and peace. More than 60,000 testimonials have been collected.

The relationship between López Obrador and the Catholic Church has been tense since the murder of the Jesuit priests. Bishop Ramón Castro, secretary general of the bishops’ conference, said ahead of the June elections that he wanted a deeper dialogue between the government and the church.

Lopez Obrador has said religious leaders are “cynical” and “hypocrites” for criticizing him but not his predecessors.

“It is a shame that the president ignores history,” the Rev. Javier Ávila, a Jesuit who worked closely with the murdered priests in the Sierra Tarahumara, said in a recent interview. “So I have to remind him that we, the Jesuits, were expelled from America because we shouted in favor of the indigenous people.”

“You cannot be indifferent when you have hit rock bottom, when blood has been splashed on you, when you have shared tears.”

In its press release Thursday, the bishops’ conference announced the launch of the “Local Peace Projects,” which will include various actions in schools, neighborhoods, businesses and family environments.

The Catholic Church’s peace proposal addresses seven topics: rebuilding the social fabric, security, justice, prisons, youth, governance and human rights.

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Associated Press religion reporting receives support through the APs cooperation with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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