Nuns withdraw from ministry in Mexican city wrought by violence

IMAGE: CNS photo/Francisca Meza, EPA

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — An order of
nuns has withdrawn from an especially violent city after the parents and sister
of one of the women religious were kidnapped and killed.

The Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, where two priests
were murdered Feb. 5, said in a statement that the nuns from the “Comunidad
Guadalupana” (Guadalupe Community) had withdrawn because of a lack of
security, leaving a school it operated in the city of Chilapa without staff.

Schools in Chilapa had suspended
classes from September to December because of the insecurity, the statement

The nuns’ withdrawal from Chilapa is
but the latest hardship for the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, which serves
parts of southern state of Guerrero, where the heroin trade has exploded in recent years. At least
six priests have been murdered there since 2009.

Two priests, Fathers Germain Muniz García and Ivan Anorve Jaime,
were shot dead as they drove back from Candlemas celebrations with four other
passengers, three of whom were injured.

State prosecutor Xavier Olea Pelaez said originally
that the priests had attended the celebrations, where there were armed individuals
from three states and that a criminal group and a neighboring state had shot
the priests. Olea also said a photo, showing Father Muniz holding an assault
rifle and posing with masked men, prompted confusion.

Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa,
who has had a tense relationship with the state government, rejected the
prosecutor’s version of events as a “fairy tale,” saying the photo was at least
a year old and likely taken with members of a community security force in
Father Muniz’s hometown. The bishop said after speaking with survivors, who
included Father Muniz’s sister, that there had been an “incident” on the
highway coming back from the celebrations.

“What they’re trying to do is blame
us,” Bishop Rangel said of the prosecutor’s statements. “According to them, we
move among narcotics traffickers, hence the murdered priests.”

In a Feb. 15 statement, the state
government said the priests were not members of a criminal group and confirmed
details voiced by the bishop.

The priests’ murders highlighted a
continuing dispute between the state government and Bishop Rangel, who has
sought out cartel bosses for dialogue to calm the state and to allow his
priests to serve poor and isolated communities sustained by planting opium

He also has spoken critically of
alleged collusion between the cartels and politicians, the police and the army.

“All of Guerrero is controlled by
narcotics traffickers. This is a fact,” Bishop Rangel told Catholic News
Service. “The authorities themselves have been displaced.”

Chilapa has turned especially violent
as drug cartels fight over the city, which is considered strategically
important for transporting heroin to the United States.

At least 15 drug cartels are operating
in Guerrero, according to state government spokesman Roberto Alvarez Heredia,
who attributed the rising violence over territory and a burgeoning illegal
heroin-supply business. He said the cartels engage in kidnapping and extortion
because it provides quick cash to cover the “payrolls” for their foot soldiers.

Alvarez said the authorities “did
not share” Bishop Rangel’s opinions and did not look well on his meeting with
criminal groups, but they did “respect” the bishop and his office.

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