A Guadalajara church that has been the target of thieves. A Guadalajara church that has been the target of thieves.

Guadalajara police seek gang of robbers targeting churchgoers

Thieves take parishioners' wallets, phones and other possessions during Mass

Churchgoers have become a target for thieves in Guadalajara. Local and state authorities are collaborating with the Catholic archdiocese to apprehend a gang that has carried out four church robberies in the last two weeks.

The most recent incident occurred on Thursday morning when four armed men entered the Jesús María church in downtown Guadalajara and robbed parishioners attending a Mass.

No one was injured during the robbery, authorities said. Victims told police that the thieves were no older than 25.

The other three recent robberies also occurred at churches in the historic center of the Jalisco capital.

Mayor Ismael del Toro Castro said authorities believe that a single gang of thieves is responsible. Parishioners’ wallets and purses, mobile telephones and other possessions have been stolen, he said.

“The modus operandi is to take advantage of a time when [the churchgoers] are absorbed [in the service] . . .” del Toro said.

Two similar robberies have occurred recently in churches in Zapopan, a municipality that is part of the Guadalajara metropolitan area.

While thieves have targeted parishioners during the past two weeks, criminals have previously stolen religious objects from churches in Guadalajara and even directly threatened priests in order to steal money collected during Mass.

Eduardo Gómez Becerra, coordinator of the sacred art commission in the archdiocese of Guadalajara, said that church bells, chalices, incense burners and candelabra are the most commonly stolen objects. He added that cases of the theft of churches’ sound systems have also been reported.

To prevent robberies, many churches have installed alarm systems and security cameras, Gómez said, adding that priests have undertaken training so that they know what to do if thieves threaten them or their parishioners.

He also said that priests keep inventories of the contents of their churches so that stolen objects can be returned promptly if recovered by authorities.

However, Gómez explained that many thefts go unreported because priests don’t want to lose a whole day going through the arduous process of filing a report.

“. . . A lot of priests don’t tell us [about thefts]; a bell or a sound system is stolen but all they do is replace them, that’s it,” he said.

Source: Milenio (sp), Reforma (sp)

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