In his 2018 election campaign for the Mexican presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed a policy of “abrazos no balazos” — a catchy phrase that means “hugs not bullets.” This approach combats drug cartel violence by addressing the root causes of the drug trade, such as poverty, and softens the use of force by the military and police.

López Obrador’s policy is in contrast to the “war on drugs” of his predecessors. However, under his tenure, violent crime has increased.

In a country where violence is commonplace, the nation was nevertheless shocked by the recent murder of two Jesuit priests and another man inside a church, shot to death presumably by a cartel gunman. Adding to the outrage was that the criminals took away the bodies of the priests.

Commenting on the murders, the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega, said June 22 during the Ninth Diocesan Pastoral Ministry Assembly that “we are going through some difficult moments” and that “these people don’t know [anything] about hugs.”

The cardinal pointed to the June 20 shooting of Jesuit priests Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, who were killed trying to protect a man who had fled inside the Catholic church of the small town of Cerocahui in the state of Chihuahua.

The crime, which is part of a growing wave of violence in Mexico, has shaken the country. On June 22, Pope Francis expressed his “pain and dismay” over the murder of the two Jesuits.

The Archdiocese of Guadalajara is no stranger to violence. The city is the capital of the state of Jalisco, the center of operations for one of the most violent and powerful criminal groups in the country, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Twenty-nine years ago, the then-Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, was gunned down at the city’s airport, a crime that authorities have yet to solve.

Cardinal Robles Ortega lamented that the killing of the two Jesuit priests "adds to an already long list of priests murdered in our country."

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However, he continued, this crime shows "the complete gravity of the violent situation that we are going through in our country."

"The priests were in a place proper to their ministry," he said, because "they were fulfilling their mission, doing their ministry."

"They weren’t doing subversive things or encouraging violence by other groups against the government," he continued, but "they were in the most appropriate place for their ministry" — that is, the church.

The two Jesuit priests, the Archbishop of Guadalajara said, “were carrying out their ministry and were treacherously executed, without further ado. Just because they were doing good to a person” who fled into the church hoping for protection.

"This [is] a very, very serious situation," he said.

The cardinal said that the government of López Obrador should see that “these people, those who are dedicated to organized crime, don’t know [anything] about hugs, no matter how much the government offers them, promises them, and gives them."

"They don't understand hugs, they only know about bullets," he said.

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In just three and a half years of the López Obrador administration, there have been more than 121,000 homicides recorded in the country, which is on track to exceed the more than 156,000 murders committed during the six-year term of his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto.

In addition, the number is way ahead of the 120,463 homicides recorded during Felipe Calderón’s six-year term.

From Jan. 1 to June 21 of this year, according to official figures, 12,481 homicides have taken place in Mexico.

The Archbishop of Guadalajara clarified that “I’m not saying that the government has to adopt the strategy of shooting these people. No. Simply bring them before the law for the murders and for all the activities they carry out against the law.”

“The government has to send them the message that there will be no more impunity,” he said. “Because that message of hugs is a message of impunity.”