|Missing Priest, Rev. Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta|
Dozens of Roman Catholic priests and hundreds of parishioners marched through the southern Mexico city of Ciudad Altamirano on Wednesday to demand the release of a kidnapped priest and protest a series of kidnappings, killings and robberies of priests.
The marchers were led by Bishop Maximino Martinez and about 30 white-robed priests. They called for the release of the Rev. Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, who apparently was kidnapped from a local seminary early Monday morning by a group of four armed persons who entered the Catholic seminary that morning.
|Bishop Maximino Martinez|
On Monday when the Bishop issued the call for the Wednesday march, the church also used social media to spread the message;
“To the whole people of God on pilgrimage to the diocese of Ciudad Altamirano, they are told of the disappearance of the father Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, on the night of Sunday December 21, so at this time what is important is to unite us all in prayer with the confidence that he is okay. If anyone has information that can help locate him please call the seminar”.
In his call for the faithful to join the march, he also said called for an end to the violence in Tierra Caliente and for the release of Father Gregorio. He also said he does not think that there is any direct problem against the priests, in spite of the cases that have happened in last years, “ because we devote ourselves to serve the people either God, to preach the gospel, we do not do anything more, our work is the redemption of the person ”.
He added that "on the occasion of Christmas, it is very important that we manifest in the march that we call for peace for our country, and to set aside all this atmosphere of violence".
"Enough Already!" and "Return Father Gregorio!" read banners carried by the marchers, who sang hymns as they marched to the city's cathedral.
"Enough, is the cry of all the bishops of Mexico and the diocese. Enough of those who provoke lawlessness, corruption, impunity of complicity and indifference while all they have done to provoke violence, fear and disappearance, 'the document says.
|seminary in Ciudad Altamirano, Mexico|
Lopez Gorostieta's pickup truck was found abandoned and locked near the main plaza which is also near the seminary, but no blood stains were found inside. The church has filed a crime report with police, but the motive remains unclear.
"We haven't received any demand for ransom," said Martinez, who noted his diocese "has suffered a lot" from the drug cartel violence that has made the hotlands region of southern Guerrero state one of the most dangerous in all of Mexico.
At least two priests have been killed in Guerrero state this year and several others have been abducted, robbed or wounded in robbery attempts.
In September, 2009 the father Habacuc was murdered, in Arcelia, when he was traveling with two young people who were for students training to be seminarians and who were also killed by gun shots. That mobilized the church to demonstrate.
On that occasion the church in a document condemned 'the violence that is plaguing our country' and demanded 'to the corresponding authorities, at all levels of Government, carry out a prompt investigation and find those responsible for this cowardly crime'.
From our faith, we express the certainty that the father Habacuc Hernández, and seminarians Eduardo Oregón Benitez and Silvestre González, who were with him are already in the presence of the heavenly father', added the document
In September of this year, the battered body of the Rev. Ascension Acuna Osorio was found floating in the Balsas river near his parish of San Miguel Totolapan, near Ciudad Altamirano. Guerrero state prosecutors said the priest's body had head wounds, but it was unclear whether they were caused by the body being dragged by the current, or whether he had been killed before being dumped in the river. Prosecutors have offered the diocese no further explanation of his death.
Residents of San Miguel Totolapan told reporters that Acuna Osorio was well-liked in the town, but they were afraid to speak any further about him. The town is an area dominated by the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, which has been implicated in the mass killing of 43 students in September in the nearby city of Iguala.
The area is so dangerous that Bishop Martinez said one priest had been briefly kidnapped in the mountains above San Miguel Totolapan by cartel gunmen who complained the priest had been speaking in favor of "La Familia" — the name of a rival drug cartel.
The priest had to quickly explain he had been preaching in favor of family values, and keeping the family together as a social nucleus, and was not talking about the rival cartel. He was then released.
Earlier this year, another priest was injured when gunmen sprayed his truck with bullets on a local road; the priest's driver was killed in that attack.
The Rev. Oscar Prudenciano, a parish priest in the city of Iguala, said he survived a similar attack on a highway in May 2013, when he was headed to a baptism.
Cartel gunmen pulled him over, apparently because they wanted to steal his truck. They dragged him off and were apparently going to kill him; the priest was only saved because a rival group of gunmen showed up and a gunfight broke out, allowing Prudenciano time to escape. "I thought they were going to kill me," he said. "I ran for my life."
While everyone is vulnerable to robberies on the region's roads, some attacks appear more specifically directed at the church, especially priests who refuse to perform quickie marriages or baptisms for drug gang members.
"At times, if they ask for a baptism and you don't do it, they start to threaten you," Martinez said. "They want a marriage, or a blessing" for a car or a home, he said, and won't take 'no' for an answer.”
About the precautionary measures he is recommending the bishop told the priests, make sure that "all their vehicles are labeled. Do not leave late at night on the roads. That take great care and tell someone where you are going. That not you refuse the services of the Church such as baptism or marriage, because finally the grace of God will come if those people are with God, beyond what they do to the priest'.
Some deaths remain a mystery. Ugandan priest Rev. John Ssenyondo, 55, had been kidnapped earlier this year after saying Mass, when a group of people in an SUV intercepted his car.
His body was later identified as one of 13 found in a clandestine grave discovered Nov. 2 in the town of Ocotitlan.
Church officials believe some attacks, in fact, may be intended to discourage priests from protesting the rampant violence.
Monsignor Ramon Castro, the bishop of the diocese of Cuernavaca, just to the north of Guerrero, said that after the church organized a march against violence in which thousands took part in March, armed men kidnapped workers from three separate parishes in nearly simultaneous attacks the next day. They were released hours later.
"We think that was a kind of warning, to tell us to keep quiet," Bishop Castro said.