MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Roman Catholic Church began a special round of prayers for peace in Mexico on Sunday after two Jesuit priests and a tour guide were slain June 20.
Jesuits held a moment of silence for the priests, who were alledgedly killed by a local drug gang leader as they tried to protect the guide.
Dozens gathered at the downtown monument known as the Stella of Light for the moment of silence.
The Jesuits said they won't be intimidated into leaving the Tarahumara mountains, where the order has ministered to the Rarámuri Indigenous community for centuries. Two priests have already been assigned to replace their fallen brothers, said the Rev. Jorge Atilano González.
"Today we are starting a cycle of prayers for peace at the national level. It is the opening of a month marking the memory of all the people killed and disappeared. Today we are remembering the priests, the journalists, the social activists and the young people who have died violently," González told the gathering.
So far this year, 12 journalists have been killed in Mexico, making it the most dangerous country for journalists outside a war zone.
The church's Catholic Multimedia Center said seven priests have been slain under the current administration, which took office in December 2018, and at least two dozen in the six years of the previous president.
But many more average citizens have been killed in gang-fueled violence.
"The over 100,000 disappeared and the 122,000 killed during this administration is a source of pain, of strength, of anger and courage to build justice, reconcilation and peace," González said.
The murdered priests, the Rev. Javier Campos, 79, and the Rev. Joaquín Mora, 80, had spent much of their lives serving the Indigenous peoples of the Sierra Tarahumara mountains. The Jesuits were shot to death in the small church in the town of Cerocahui.
The bishops' council also called on the faithful to pray on July 31 for the conversion or redemption of the killers.
"What we are asking for as Jesuits is peace in the Sierra Tarahumara, safety for the Rarámuri communities, as well as for the religious community," González said.
"We are also asking for justice, for strengthening local institutions," like police forces, he said. "It is not going to be enough to have the presence of the army and the National Guard. We need stronger local institutions."