SALTILLO, Mexico (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishops of Mexico are calling on authorities to search for a missing Catholic priest. Father Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes, a parish priest from the northern state of Coahuila, has been missing for more than a week.
Coahuila has been a hotbed of drug violence in recent years, leading to fears Hernandez has been kidnapped or murdered. As of press time, no one knows for certain what has happened to Hernandez. The Mexican Council of Bishops stated regarding his case, "[C]rime and violence destroy the most sacred thing we have: life."
Starting January 3, Hernandez was scheduled to take a vacation from his priestly duties, but he could not be reached by a close friend that day. A neighbor reportedly saw two men take Hernandez's car that morning, which has led to further suspicion of foul play.
According to the Saltillo diocese where Hernandez is a priest, that same close friend went to his residence and discovered that his belongings and clothes were strewn all over the floor.
The suspected kidnapping is only the latest case in a long string of kidnappings and murders of Catholic priests in Mexico. Over the past four years, 15 priests have been murdered across Mexico, with three others still missing.
Father Hugo Valdemar Romero, a spokesman for the archdiocese of Mexico City, remarked, "Statistically we are considered the most dangerous country in the world to work for the ministry — even more than countries facing the Islamic State and religious persecution against Christians."
In September 2016, two priests were murdered in the state of Veracruz. Alejo Nabor Jimenez and Alfredo Suarez de la Cruz were shot to death outside of Poza Rica, a town in eastern Mexico. Although the reason for their murder is still unclear, the town of Poza Rica has seen a spate of 41 murders in the first eight months of 2016.
Pope Francis and the Catholic leadership in Mexico have spoken out strongly against the drug cartels in Mexico, who are behind much of the violence seizing the country.
During his trip to Mexico in February 2016, Pope Francis implored the youth of Mexico to stay away from the criminal underworld.
It is a lie to believe that the only way to be young is to entrust oneself to drug dealers or others who do nothing but sow destruction and death. Jesus would never ask us to be hit men; rather, He calls us to be disciples and friends. He would never send us out to death, but rather, everything in Him speaks of life.
Between 2007 and 2014, more than 164,000 people were killed in Mexico — more than the total number of civilian deaths from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq during the same time period.
Matthew Heineman, director of Cartel Land, a documentary on the drug war in Mexico, remarked,
The pope expressed the views of so many people in Mexico. But the tragedy is that their views and hopes for order and security have been ignored for so long by a government that has allowed the cartels to operate with impunity, resulting in a vicious cycle of violence for so many.