The Jesuit priests Javier Campos Morales, 78, and Joaquín Mora, 80 were murdered on Monday inside a church in the village of Cerocahui, in the Tarahumara mountains in Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua. Both were shot dead as they were sheltering a 60-year-old tourist guide named Pedro Palma who was being chased by assailants. local authorities have confirmed.
Despite the pleas of the only priest who was spared, the criminals threw the bodies into a pickup truck and these have not yet been recovered. In addition to the clerics and the guide, four other people were kidnapped Monday morning in this small community of just over 1,000 inhabitants. The victims are two men, a woman and a minor, according to the State Prosecutor’s Office.
Authorities have confirmed that there were two attacks. The first involved the kidnapping of Paul Osvaldo B. and Armando B. , as well as an unidentified woman and minor. The second incident took place at around 1pm inside the church, where three men were shot according to the statement from the Prosecutor’s Office.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador confirmed the facts in his news conference on Tuesday and acknowledged the violence suffered by the State of Chihuahua due to the onslaught of organized crime. “We are now attending to this matter. It seems that we already have information about the possible perpetrators of these crimes,” he said.
The multiple crime in Sierra Tarahumara is another reminder that Mexico endures the bloodiest figures in its history, with 90 to 100 murders a day. No matter how much López Obrador may boasts of a “containment” in homicide figures, killings like Monday’s send a powerful message: whether or not more murders take place will depend on the will of the criminals.
Around 30 priests have been murdered in the last decade in Mexico, according to the religious organization Centro Católico Multimedial, The wave of violence has also reached inside churches and temples that often provide shelter to citizens fleeing attackers.
The main suspect is a criminal leader in the area, Jose Noriel Portillo, better known El Chueco, according to local press reports. The region is besieged by organized crime, which controls the land and forests. Thousands of people are uprooted at gunpoint, and there is absolute impunity not only in this poor and marginal area of northern Mexico, but in many other parts of the country as well.
The governor of Chihuahua, Maru Campos, condemned the killing of the priests at a press conference on Tuesday, although she did not mention the other crimes, which are under preliminary investigation, according to a statement from the state Attorney General’s Office. The fate of the four kidnap victims is still not known.
Ricardo Palma, the tour guide’s son, told EL PAÍS that he received a call on Monday from a colleague of his father’s explaining what had happened. “While they were eating at the hotel Mision Cerocahui an armed group burst in and took him and a group of tourists,” he explained via WhatsApp, as he boarded a Mexico-bound plane in Barcelona, where he is doing a medical residency at a hospital. “The tourism van he was driving was abandoned outside the hotel.”
Palma’s father was an experienced tour guide who had worked for over 40 years in the Sierra Tarahumara. He had worked for international agencies such as Grand Circle Travel, Caravan Tours, American Orient Express.
“We live under constant threats and harassment. But we had never reached this limit,” said Javier Avila, one of the main leaders of the Jesuit community that has been working in the Tarahumara mountains for decades. “This crime will never be understood, because it has no logic. It is the result of official obstinacy in the face of a very tragic reality. The entire country, not only the Tarahumara region, is cloaked in a gross and alarming impunity. It hurts a lot to say it, but it is a reality. There has been no one, in any six-year administration, who has said: “Enough is enough.”
Javier Campos Morales had been working in the areas for 34 years. He joined the Society of Jesus Society of Jesus in 1959, at the age of 16, and was ordained in 1972. A year later he began his mission in the Sierra Tarahumara. Joaquín César Mora joined the Jesuits in 1958, also at the age of 16. He was ordained a priest in 1971.