Bishops and priests across Mexico used their sermons on Sunday to plead for peace as the Catholic Church embarked on a national prayer campaign amid ongoing high levels of violence.
The church’s Jornada de Oración por la Paz – a three-week-long peace campaign – began Sunday, three weeks after two elderly Jesuit priests were murdered in Chihuahua. The campaign – which seeks to promote peace and commemorate victims of violence, including slain priests – will continue throughout the remainder of July.
In the Cuernavaca Cathedral, Bishop Ramón Castro Castro expressed concern about the high levels of violence in Mexico, where there were almost 13,000 homicides in the first five months of the year.
“That’s why the clergy is saying ‘enough already,’” said Castro, bishop of the diocese of Cuernavaca and the secretary general of Mexico’s bishops’ association.
“We’re seeking a more effective security strategy, it’s time to listen to us,” added the bishop, who earlier this month criticized the federal government’s non-confrontational “hugs, not bullets” approach. “It’s time for all of us to look for the peace we all long for. Let us attend to wounded Mexico, let’s respond with … hope and faith.”
Castro said that he and other Catholic Church leaders wouldn’t turn their backs on Mexico’s violence problem due to fear or “not wanting to get into trouble.”
“We dream of a Mexico at peace and that’s why all the bishops have raised their voices with a statement, pleading … for there to be peace,” he said.
Issued by the Episcopal Conference of Mexico (CEM) and two other Catholic organizations, the July 4 statement announced the Jornada de Oración por la Paz and advocated “social dialogue to build a path of justice and reconciliation that leads us to peace.” Castro reiterated that message. “We’re not declaring war on anyone. We don’t want more conflicts than there already are, we’re pleading for dialogue for the construction of true peace,” he said.
In his Sunday sermon, Monterrey Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López advised his congregation that they would pray for “our country, which is reaching an unsustainable point” due to the incessant violence.
“Things must change,” declared the septuagenarian archbishop, who is currently president of CEM. Cabrera reminded authorities they have a responsibility to “contain” the violence that has affected the lives of countless Mexicans. “Many families in our country are suffering because of violence – they’ve had to escape, flee,” Cabrera said, referring to people forced out of their home towns due to the presence of crime groups.
He noted that many other people have been abducted and murdered by organized crime, which holds sway in many parts of the country.
During a Mass in the town of Chapala, Jalisco, Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega suggested that Mexico’s violence problem is related to a lack of application of the love thy neighbor commandment. “We’re not taking enough care of our brothers. That’s why we have so many missing people, so many people murdered and so many young people immersed and involved in the world of drugs and evil,” said the archbishop of Guadalajara.
He criticized people in power for being more concerned about themselves than the citizens they are tasked with protecting. “They’re more intent on taking care of their party, their position, … [and] their future than looking after citizens,” Robles said.
“They’re more concerned with looking after economic interests,” asserted the cardinal, who had his own brush with organized crime last month when stopped at unofficial checkpoints while traveling in northern Jalisco.
Mexico needs to undertake a process of pacification and reconciliation, Robles said, adding that delving deeper into division will only result in “disaster for the majority of us who live in this country.”
In his Sunday homily, Ciudad Juárez Bishop José Guadalupe Torres Campos offered an encapsulation of the Catholic Church’s view on the situation the country is facing. “We’re all exclaiming this cry, this protest, with concern and sadness: Enough of so much death, so much pain, so much violence, so much evil across Mexico, in our state and in our city!” he said.
At the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Monsignor Andrés García Jasso called on his flock to not grow insensitive to the violence plaguing the country. “Let’s not become accustomed to these scenarios of deaths and disappearances,” said the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico. “Let’s continue to get angry every time we hear news of this nature and, above all, let’s continue praying for peace in our families, our nation and the entire world.”
García called on teachers and parents to work toward the eradication of violence through education and the restoration of Mexico’s social fabric, and urged authorities to provide “the public security necessary for all Mexicans.”
In addition to churches across the country, believers also gathered next to the Estela de Luz (Stele of Light) monument outside the capital’s Chapultepec Park for a service to mark the commencement of the Jornada de Oración por la Paz. Some 100 people attended the Jesuit service to commemorate the lives of the priests who were recently murdered in the Sierra Tarahumara region of Chihuahua and other victims of violence.
“[We’re] united by the desire for justice, reconciliation and peace that emerges from the depths of our hearts in the face of the blood that is shed every day in this country,” said Jorge Atilano González Candia, a Jesuit priest.
“… Today we are starting a cycle of prayers for peace at the national level. It is the opening of a month marking the memory of all the people killed and disappeared. Today we are remembering the priests, the journalists, the social activists and the young people who have died violently,” he said.
“The over 100,000 disappeared and the 122,000 killed during this administration is a source of pain, of strength, of anger and courage to build justice, reconciliation and peace,” González said.
Among the murder victims since President López Obrador took office in December 2018 are seven priests, according to Mexico’s Catholic Multimedia Center. At least two dozen were killed during the 2012–18 term of the government led by former president Enrique Peña Nieto.