Salvador Rangel, former bishop of the Chilapa-Chilpancingo diocese in the southern state of Guerrero, was well known for his willingness to engage with criminal organizations.
Now, José de Jesús González, who took over from Rangel last month, is determined to carry on the tradition.
In an interview with the newspaper Milenio, he said he hoped to cultivate a friendship with criminal groups and indicated that he would be prepared to give his life while mediating between feuding narcos.
González – who was previously a suffragan (assistant) bishop in the Archdiocese of Guadalajara – said he hasn’t yet met with organized crime operatives in the troubled state, but he plans to travel to the mountainous region of his diocese with a view to initiating dialogue.
“I believe they’re looking at me to see if I have … [the right] profile” to liaise with them, he told Milenio.
“I’m going to go and do my work [in the diocese] and if they also want to become my friends they’ll come out to meet me,” González said.
The bishop said he hoped to go to the “sierra” next week, although he conceded he didn’t know whether he would find any narcos there.
“I don’t know if they’re there. One thinks they’re there but they’re everywhere! I’m just going to go and see, I’m going to visit the communities, the priests there, the religious and the faithful,” González said.
“If … [the narcos] believe it’s advisable to find me – they rule the land, not me – … we’ll talk,” he said.
González said he would advise gang members that he has replaced Rangel as bishop and ask them to allow him to do his work and not confuse him for an antagonist, such as a rival criminal.
“They hunt you, like deer hunters, but I’m not a deer, I’m a person,” he said.
“[I’ll] introduce myself, tell them ‘I’m going to be driving this kind of truck, … getting in and out,’” González said.
“… Let’s see if they accept me, … they already had a previous [Catholic Church] friend [in Rangel], now [let’s see if they want] to make a friend of me,” he said.
The bishop admitted he’s afraid of what lies ahead, telling Milenio that firearms make him nervous.
“They have weapons, if they see a strange movement they have to shoot, … they’re in a situation of anxiety day and night,” he said. “… These people are indoctrinated to distrust everyone and perhaps to do evil if they’re obliged.”
Despite the dangers, González said he wants to be a mediator between criminal groups in Guerrero, Mexico’s ninth most violent state in 2021 with over 1,350 homicides. His predecessor said in December that such groups have diversified their activities well beyond the trafficking of narcotics and now have interests in mining, logging and even the distribution of beer and soft drinks.
“The pope says it’s better to be a mediator and not an intermediary. Do you know the difference? An intermediary receives a payment and is happy with his payment. A mediator has both sides in his heart and doesn’t want disputes,” González said, adding that the latter would give his life in exchange for enemies extending their hands to each other.
“… A good shepherd doesn’t flee, he gives his life for his sheep. If we also want to be good, [we also have to] give our lives for our sheep and … [narcos] are also sheep,” he said, making a remark similar to that made last week by President López Obrador, who declared that the government looks after criminals because they’re people too.
Asked whether he would be prepared to give his own life while advocating peace through mediation between criminal groups, the bishop responded:
“Maybe yes. Maybe it is what is needed. Martyrs! Although we already have several, another wouldn’t be bad for the church, but only God grants that [designation]. If the Lord grants it, it would be great!”
With reports from Milenio