The remains of a Ugandan priest who disappeared April 30 have been identified after they were discovered last month in a mass grave in the Mixteca region of Guerrero state.
Father John Ssenyondo, 55, had celebrated Mass in the town of Santa Cruz, Chilapa de Alvarez, when he was grabbed and kidnapped by armed men, according to witnesses.
Parishioners, though reluctant to talk for fear of reprisal, say the priest had angered a drug gang when he refused to baptize the child of one of its members. It wasn’t Ssenyondo’s first brush with criminals: he had been attacked and tied up last year in a room of the church where he lived. His attackers made off with cash and his car.
Nor is the priest’s death the first brush the church has had with criminal elements. Another priest in the same diocese was kidnapped last year and released after the church paid a 44,000-peso ransom. Yet another Guerrero priest was killed last year, and three other dioceses have had to make extortion payments to avoid kidnappings.
A member of the Combonian Missionaries, Father Ssenyondo arrived in Mexico four years ago, and was described by the general vicar of the Chilpancingo-Chilapa diocese in which he worked as “peaceful and friendly, not at all troubled.”
After his disappearance, his parishioners set out to find him. The search led to the discovery of two mass graves in Ocotitlán where the remains of a dark-skinned man were among the 13 bodies found.
An analysis using records in the possession of Ssenyondo’s dentist confirmed the priest’s identity this week.
While the church community was stunned by the news, it accepts that there are dangers. “That is the risk we all run,” said Rogelio Busto Juárez of the Combonian order in Mexico.
“He knew he could meet his fate among the people with whom he decided to remain.”