27th Priest Murdered in Mexico in Seven Years

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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 26, 2019   

Fr. José Martín Guzmán Vega was stabbed to death Aug. 22; the 27th priest killed in Mexico since 2012

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MATAMOROS, Mexico (ChurchMilitant.com) - A priest was killed near Mexico's northern border as the country is considered one of the most dangerous in the world for Catholic priests.

Father José Martín Guzmán Vega was stabbed to death in Matamoros, Mexico — just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas — around 10 p.m. the night of Thursday, Aug. 22.

That night, people near the parish church of Cristo Rey de la Paz heard someone screaming for help. When they looked for the source of the noise, they found the 55-year-old priest bleeding from the stab wounds. Father Guzmán Vega soon died at a local hospital.

Reports have stated that law enforcement officials are unsure of the attacker's identity motives but are investigating the evidence available.

Bishop Eugenio Lira Rugarcía of the Matamoros diocese said in an Aug. 23 statement that news of the priest's death caused "deep pain," adding, "We express our condolences to the Guzmán Vega family and the Cristo Rey de la Paz Parish Community."

Over the weekend, Bp. Lira Rugarcía's Facebook page posted photographs of the slain priest's funeral Mass — which took place at noon local time on Saturday, Aug. 24.

Father Guzmán Vega is the first Catholic priest killed in Mexico so far this year. But he is the 27th priest murdered since 2012, according to Spanish-language outfit Centro Católico Multimedial (Catholic Multimedia Center).


One report on Fr. Guzmán Vega's murder mentions he had recently offered the funeral Mass of a shooting victim; another report states he was involved in prison ministry.

Remarking on the deadly trend of Mexico's priests getting killed, Fr. Hugo Valdemar Romero of the Mexico City archdiocese said in 2016, "Statistically we are considered the most dangerous country in the world to work for [priestly] ministry."

"Even more than countries facing the Islamic State and religious persecution against Christians," he added.

Father Guzmán Vega is the first Catholic priest killed in Mexico so far this year. But he is the 27th priest murdered since 2012.

A 2017 report from the Catholic Multimedia Center claimed that 19 priests were murdered and two went missing in 2012–2017 in Mexico.

In April 2015, Fr. Francisco Javier Gutiérrez Díaz was found dead in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. His body was found by the side of the road with a bullet wound in the head. Reportedly, Fr. Gutiérrez Díaz had a large sum of money with him as he traveled that day in order to purchase land for his religious order.

Two priests of the diocese of Papantla were found murdered in September 2016 — Fr. Alejo Nabor Jiménez and Fr. José Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz. A third priest, Fr. Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen of the archdiocese of Morelia, was kidnapped the same day the two priests' bodies were found. Father Lopez Guillen himself was later found dead.

In April 2018, Fr. Jose Moises Fabila Reyes of Mexico City was kidnapped during a trip and murdered. His dead body was found after a $100,000 ransom was paid. According to investigators, the kidnappers likely killed the priest even before they demanded the ransom.

Father Ícmar Arturo Orta was found dead last October in Playas de Rosarito, a few miles south of Tijuana. Reportedly, there was evidence he had been kidnapped and tortured before his death. The area was witnessing a bloody cartel war at the time of the priest's disappearance and death.

One of the apparent causes for much of the violence against Mexico's clergy is that the cartels sometimes see Catholic priests as a threat to their criminal enterprises. In some cases, it seems the priest was likely targeted because he was seen as a soft target for robbery. 

In January 2017, Church Militant reported on how a huge decline in violence in a Mexican border town was attributed to an increase in eucharistic adoration chapels.

Ciudad Juárez is across the border from El Paso, Texas. From 2010 to 2015, the murder rate in Ciudad Juárez dropped from 3,766 to only 256. A priest attributed this to a growth in the number of perpetual adoration chapels in the area and in Mexico in general.

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