By MARK LORENZANA
Two Jesuit priests were shot dead by armed individuals on Monday, June 20, inside a church in the municipality of Urique in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Their bodies were allegedly taken by the gunmen.
A man pursued by the gunmen had purportedly sought refuge in the church, and the two priests — Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar — were killed as a result, said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), in his daily morning news conference on Tuesday, June 21. The man fleeing his pursuers was also killed.
AMLO said government authorities have information about possible suspects in the killings and that the area has a strong organized-crime presence.
“The information we have so far this morning is that the gunmen entered the church of Urique, chasing a person. They murdered him, the priests appeared and apparently they were also murdered,” López Obrado said. “Urique is in the mountains of Chihuahua, from Creel (a town in the Sierra Tarahumara mountains, Chihuahua) through Témoris, and it is an area with a strong presence of organized crime. It seems that there is already information on the perpetrators.”
The Roman Catholic Society of Jesus in Mexico condemned the murders and in a statement demanded justice.
“Acts like these are not isolated. The Tarahumara mountains, like many other regions of the country, face conditions of violence and abandonment that have not been reversed. Every day, men and women are arbitrarily deprived of life, as our murdered brothers were today,” the statement said.
According to unofficial reports, criminal leader José “El Chueco” Noriel Portillo is the alleged mastermind for the murder of the priests inside the church and later allegedly ordered the removal of their bodies.
The state government of Chihuahua said that the two priests were “circumstantial” victims.
The Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM) also condemned the senseless killings.
“In the midst of so much death and crime in the country, we publicly condemn this tragedy and demand a prompt investigation and security for the community and all priests in the country,” said a statement posted on the CEM Twitter account.
The Vatican News has already reported the murder of the Jesuits.
Campos Morales entered the Society of Jesus on Aug. 14, 1959, at the age of 16 and was ordained on June 8, 1972, in Mexico City. He had been serving in Chihuahua since 1974, starting in the city of Guachochi.
Mora Salazar, on the other hand, joined the Jesuits on July 30, 1958, also at the age of 16. He was ordained as a priest on May 1, 1971, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, a state in the northeast region of Mexico. Mora Salazar started serving in Chihuahua in 1976, when he went on a mission in the Sierra Tarahumara mountains for six months. He had been serving as cooperating vicar in Cerocahui from 2007 until his death.