Facing drug gang violence ‘God is the people’s only defense,’ Mexican bishop says — By: Catholic News Agency

The violence in one of the most troubled regions of Mexico led to a temporary parish closure. / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 10, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Cristóbal Ascencio García of the Diocese of Apatzingán in Mexico, one of the regions hardest hit by organized crime and where a church was recently forced to close its doors “for security reasons,” said that “in the face of the helplessness” the residents are experiencing, the people “find their only defense in God.”

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Ascencio commented on disturbing developments at Santa María de Guadalupe Parish in the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, also known as La Ruana, about 30 miles west of Apatzingán.

On Feb. 28 the parish announced on social media the suspension of religious services, stating that “we are in a risky situation; let us pray for peace for our people.”

“For everyone’s safety, Santa María de Guadalupe Parish in La Ruana will remain closed. Today there will be no prayers or Mass,” the parish announced.

Ascencio, whose diocese includes the parish, said that some days after the church was closed normal activities resumed.

“The pastor did it because the town was desolate: businesses closed, all the schools closed. So, to avoid taking risks, he informed the people [of the closure] on social media and didn’t ring the bells [for the celebration of Mass],” he explained.

The prelate said that clashes between crime gangs “had usually occurred on the edge of the town,” however with the escalation of violence, areas closer to town began to be affected. Videos of armed confrontations in La Ruana circulated on social media.

Michoacán: in the crosshairs of organized crime

In the state of Michoacán, drug trafficking activity goes back decades, with the cultivation of marijuana and poppies, the plant from which heroin is obtained. Important drug trafficking routes cross the region, connecting Jalisco state with Guerrero and Mexico states. Additionally, Puerto Lázaro Cárdenas on the Pacific coast in Michoacán is considered one of the most important ports in Mexico and Latin America.

According to the report “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations” from the Congressional Research Service of the United States, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and different local criminal organizations are fighting for control in Michoacán.

In 2023, more than 1,756 first-degree homicides were recorded in Michoacán, according to data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Safety System.

On the list of the top 50 most violent cities per capita in the world in terms of homicides during 2023, compiled by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, there are 16 Mexican towns. Three of them are in Michoacán: Zamora, ranked fourth; Uruapan, 18th; and Morelia, the state capital, is in 45th place.

Also making the list were the U.S. cities of Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans;, Baltimore; Cleveland; Detroit; and Washington, D.C.

‘People find their salvation in God’

Despite the violence that forced the church to close, Ascencio noted that “a greater influx of people was noticed” in the days after the church was reopened. For the community, the Mexican prelate said, “their only support is God.”

The bishop himself celebrated an afternoon Mass on Saturday, March 2, in a chapel dedicated to Christ the King at the entrance of La Ruana, where the number of faithful attending was significant.

“People find their salvation in God. Faced with helplessness, they find their only defense in God,” the bishop of Apatzingán said.

‘What we offer is conversion’

When asked if contacts have been made with crime gangs to talk about peace in the region, the Mexican bishop told ACI Prensa that “if they look us up, we’ll talk with them.” However, he stated that “making an agreement with them is not something that we do.”

“We haven’t sought dialogue with criminals. We can’t make an agreement with them because we have nothing to offer,” Ascencio said. “What we offer is conversion.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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