Friday morning, Fr. Juan Martín Guzmán Vega became the 27th priest in Mexico to be murdered.
According to the Catholic Multimedia Center (CCM), Fr. Guzmán, variously referred to as Fr. Juan Martín or Fr. José Martín, was stabbed several times with a knife after returning to his rectory from a walk outside to get food. “Neighbors heard cries for help inside the parish, when they approached they saw Father José Martín seriously injured so he was transferred to the General Hospital of the town to be treated,” the report said. “Minutes later his death was declared.”
He was 55 and had been a priest for 15 years and served in the diocesan prison pastoral ministry and in the community of Cristo Rey de La Paz, Ejido Santa Adelaida.
Fr. Guzmán’s bishop, Eugenio Lira Rugarcía of the Diocese of Matamoros, issued a statement expressing “deep pain” over the “unfortunate death of the presbyter José Martín Guzmán Vega, of whom the competent authorities have already begun investigations to clarify the facts and do justice.
“In the meantime, we express our condolences to the Guzmán Vega family and the Cristo Rey de la Paz Parish Community, Ejido Santa Adelaida, and invite everyone to join in prayer to ask God for the eternal rest of Fr. Martin,” the bishop said.
CCM, a website run by Pauline Fr. Omar Sotelo, took note of a “rebound in violence” in Matamoros, a city bordering Brownsville, Texas. On August 19, state news media reported an incidence of shootings that injured and killed various people, including a child under 10 years old.
The August 23 murder is the latest violence against religious figures in Mexico. “So far this year there have been several incidents against priests and religious,” CCM noted. “Such is the case of a priest injured by a firearm in Cuernavaca Morelos and death threats to priests in various areas of Veracruz.”
On August 3, Fr. Aarón Méndez Ruiz, director of the Casa del Migrante AMAR migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo, was kidnapped after blocking an attempt by an organized criminal group to kidnap Cuban migrants from the shelter.
Members of the criminal group that abducted Father Méndez had attempted to kidnap Cuban migrants from the shelter with the intention of holding them for ransom, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). CSW noted that Nuevo Laredo had been added to the U.S. “Remain in Mexico” program, which requires migrants to stay in Mexico while they await immigration hearings in the United States. Father Méndez is one of many priests running shelters for migrants and asylum seekers in the area, CSW said:
Many criminal groups view Church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, and their influence, as a threat to their power. Religious leaders continue to be threatened, kidnapped and killed, and a lack of proper investigation means perpetrators are not brought to justice.
Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, commented, “We urge the international community to engage with the Mexican government on these matters and to recognize the role that many religious leaders play, not only as leaders of their churches, but also as voices for peace, justice and integrity, and as human rights defenders.”
In July, Fr. Juvenal Candía Mosso was shot in the city of Cuernavaca while riding in a taxi for a prison ministry meeting. The priest was taken to the hospital. The driver was also injured in the attack, and died from his wounds. According to Catholic News Agency, quoting local media, the attack took place the evening of July 22 in front of San José Seminary in the village of Chamilpa, part of metro Cuernavaca.