The Jesuits of Mexico announced Tuesday that two of their priests were killed Monday inside a church in a mountainous region of Chihuahua state. 

Fathers Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar had served as Jesuit priests for nearly a century combined. The gunmen who carried out the June 20 attack on the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua also took their bodies. 

“We condemn these violent acts, we demand justice and the recovery of the bodies of our brothers who were taken from the church by armed persons,” a June 21 statement released in Spanish from the Mexican Jesuits reads. 

“We trust that the testimonies of Christian life of our dear Javier and Joaquín continue to inspire men and women to give themselves in the service of the most vulnerable. Rest in peace.”

According to the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office, both priests tried to protect a person who sought refuge in the church while being chased by at least one other man, both armed, El Sol de Mexico newspaper reported. The chaser reportedly shot and killed all three men. 

Luis Gerardo Moro Madrid SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits of Mexico, condemned the killings and said they are “working with the federal and state authorities to ensure the safety” of the parish’s two remaining priests.

The Jesuits issued a demand that “all protective measures be adopted immediately to safeguard the lives of our Jesuit brothers, sisters, lay people and the entire Cerocahui community.”

When asked about the crime by El Sol de Mexico, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated that an investigation is underway. 

The region where the killings took place is populated by the Tarahumara indigenous people, who are renowned for their running skills. The area has suffered from drug-related organized crime for years, and the Jesuits noted and expressed solidarity with the pain that the people they serve are experiencing “due to the prevailing violence.”

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“The Sierra Tarahumara, like many other regions of the country, faces conditions of violence and neglect that have not been reversed,” the statement from the Jesuits continues. 

“Every day men and women are arbitrarily deprived of life, as our brothers were murdered today. The Jesuits of Mexico will not remain silent in the face of the reality that lacerates all of society. We will continue to be present and working for the mission of justice, reconciliation and peace, through our pastoral, educational and social works.”

According to the Jesuits, Father Campos Morales was born in Mexico City and was ordained in 1972. After several pastoral assignments, he returned to Cerocahui in 2019 to serve as Superior of the Jesuit Mission; as Pastor and Vicar of Indigenous Pastoral of the Diocese of Tarahumara, and as Regional Advisor of Base Ecclesial Communities. 

Father Salazar was born in Monterrey and was ordained in 1971. Since 2000 he served as Parochial Vicar in Chínipas, and later as Cooperating Vicar in Cerocahui since 2007. 

The killing of priests in Mexico has escalated in recent years. Most recently, the body of Father José Guadalupe Rivas Saldaña, 57, was found with signs of violence on the outskirts of Tecate, a city located on the border with the United States in the Mexican state of Baja California.

It is estimated that the first three and a half years of the current administration of López Obrador has been the most violent period on record in the history of Mexico, with more than 120,000 homicides.