The bodies of two Jesuit priests and a tour guide shot dead this week in a gang-ravaged area of northern Mexico were found on Wednesday after a major search, authorities said.
The two priests – Javier Campos, 79, and Joaquin Mora, 81, were fatally shot in the town of Cerocahui in the northern state of Chihuahua on Monday “while trying to defend a man who was seeking refuge” from a pursuer. The fleeing man, identified as tour guide Pedro Palma, was also killed.
The state prosecutor’s office in Chihuahua said the three were killed after Palma took refuge in a church in the town of Cerocahui to protect himself from an attack.
The priests were gunned down while trying to help the guide, who ran into their church for help.
“We’ve found and recovered … the bodies of the Jesuit priests Javier Campos, Joaquin Mora and the tour guide Pedro Palma,” Chihuahua Governor Maria Eugenia Campos said in a video posted to social media.
The crime drew swift condemnation from the Pope. Pope Francis, who is also a Jesuit, called the priests his “brothers”.
The pope said he was shocked by the killings, as authorities hunted for the murder suspect.
“So many killings in Mexico,” Francis said at the end of his general audience for thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
The office named Jose Noriel Portillo Gil as a suspect in the murders, and offered a reward of five million pesos, or nearly $250,000, for information relating to his whereabouts.
The state said in 2018 that Portillo, who is also the prime suspect in the murder of American teacher Patrick Braxton-Andrews, was involved in the drug trade.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico also condemned the killings, saying the priests had carried out “important social and pastoral work” among the Raramuri, or Tarahumara, Indigenous people.
About 30 priests have been killed in Mexico in the past decade, according to the Centro Catolico Multimedial, a Catholic organisation.
(Agencies; Picture Courtesy: Reuters)