Seeking peace in Mexico, four bishops meet with organized crime  — By: Catholic News Agency

St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Chilpancingo, Mexico. / Credit: Mfrand/Wikimedia Commons

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 17, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Four bishops from the Mexican state of Guerrero recently met with members of organized crime in an effort to seek peace in a region shaken by violent clashes and death.

During a Feb. 14 press conference, Bishop José de Jesús González of the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa said that the prelates of the area “began to seek dialogue with the [crime] bosses that could bring us peace.” However, he lamented that his goal “was not achieved.”

Accompanying González at the meeting were the archbishop of Acapulco, Leopoldo González; the bishop of Tlapa, Dagoberto Sosa; and the bishop of Ciudad Altamirano, Joel Ocampo.

​The four bishops’ ecclesiastical province in southwestern Mexico has a population of approximately 4.8 million.

The main obstacle to these negotiations, according to González, is that criminals “covet territories.” The prelate pointed out that initially one of the criminal organizations wanted “a truce with their conditions,” but for their rivals “those conditions were not to their liking.”

Incidents of violence have increased in the state of Guerrero in recent months, and taxi drivers and truck drivers have been murdered.

“La Familia Michoacana” is one of the drug trafficking groups fighting for turf in the region along with the “Cartel del Sur” (“Southern Cartel”). Rival gangs include crime organizations such as “Los Tlacos.”

In the ranking of the 50 most violent cities in the world during 2022, prepared by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, there are 17 Mexican towns. Acapulco ranks 10th on the list.

According to the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System, 1,398 first-degree homicides were recorded in Guerrero throughout 2023. Of those, 1,026 were carried out with firearms.

Mexican president comments on meetings

In a Feb. 15 press conference, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was asked about the bishops’ meeting with members of organized crime.

López Obrador noted that “priests, pastors, members of all churches always participate, help, in the pacification of the country. I see it as a good thing, I think that we all have to contribute to achieving peace.”

“Of course, the responsibility of guaranteeing peace and tranquility belongs to the state — that must be very clear,” he added.

After stating that the “customs” and “traditions” that persist “deep within Mexico” have “inhibited drug consumption” in the country, López Obrador stressed that “trafficking is one thing and consumption is another. The problem that our brothers in the United States, our American friends, have is consumption, which is why 100,000 young people lose their lives every year from consuming fentanyl.”

The president of Mexico reiterated that in his government “we see as a good thing” the dialogues sought by the Catholic Church but asked that “agreements that mean granting impunity, privileges, licenses to steal” not be made.

“But whoever wants to leave that hell … whoever wants to get out of that can do so,” he said.

Drug violence affects the Catholic Church

Bishop González said violence in his area has directly affected members of the Catholic Church: “They’ve killed leaders of nocturnal adoration, they’ve killed the parents of altar servers.” 

In October 2023, Father Velázquez Florencio was shot at by assailants because of his human rights work while traveling on the highway that connects the towns of Tixtla and Chilpancingo in Guerrero state.

The bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa lamented that it seems that the authorities “have left” the population at the mercy of the violence. “We believe that the government has the solution and we would also like it not to be corrupted … they have power, they have the resources, they have the means.”

Despite being unsuccessful in their attempts to dialogue with criminal organizations, González assured that “attempts by the Catholic Church to achieve peace will continue.” 

“We will have to continue with strategies to reach their hearts, to change the mentality [of the criminals],” the prelate said.

To that end, he urged the faithful to offer God prayer, fasting, and works of mercy for the conversion of criminals, trusting that these actions can “move minds and hearts.”

“As a Church [we are called] not to be indifferent to what is happening, not to close our eyes, our ears, not to keep quiet” and to be “with the poorest, with those most harmed, with the victims of violence; because there’s a lot of pain,” he said.

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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