A Mexican pastor was shot at close range while he was preaching the Sunday morning service at his church, Fraternidad Cristiana in Oaxaca, last weekend. Pastor Alfrery Líctor Cruz Canseco died on the way to the hospital. His death represents a concerning trend of church leaders being targeted by criminal groups in Mexico.
“The fact that he was targeted while in the pulpit is particularly shocking,” Mervyn Thomas, the Chief Executive of the watchdog group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said in a statement.
Pastor Cruz Canseco Isn’t the Only Mexican Pastor Targeted
CSW is calling attention to the fact that Pastor Cruz Canseco is just one of a handful of pastors who have been the target of attacks lately. “Many criminal groups view church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, and their influence, as a threat to their power,” CSW’s statement says. The lack of action on the part of the Mexican authorities to combat the attacks is also concerning. “A lack of proper investigation means perpetrators are not brought to justice,” CSW explains.
Luis Herrera of the Coordination of Christian Organisations in Chiapas (COOC) says, “[It is] terrible what is happening, it seems to me that it is now very complicated to be able to guarantee security to the brothers who do something for the good of others.”
Another pastor in a city near the U.S.-Mexico border was kidnapped earlier this month. Pastor Aarón Méndez Ruiz directs a migrant shelter, Casa del Migrante AMAR, in the city Nuevo Laredo. The shelter houses up to 450 migrants at a time and is currently home to some Cuban migrants. Violent criminals have discovered that kidnapping Cuban migrants and demanding ransom money from their family members has proven lucrative. Pastor Méndez Ruiz was defending the Cuban migrants from such an attack when he was abducted.
So far, no communication or demand for ransom from Pastor Méndez Ruiz’s kidnappers has been received. The pastor’s assistant told reporters everyone in the shelter is afraid the criminals will come back to take them, too.
Catholic Priests Also Targeted
Catholic priests are also targeted in Mexico. CSW reports 2018 saw 10 religious leaders killed in Mexico, and that it is one of the most dangerous countries for Catholic priests to serve. Catholic Multimedia Centre reports that two priests were forced to leave the city they serve in, Pánuco in Veracruz state, due to threats from criminals. The numbers of priests targeted in violent attacks in 2019 have not been gathered yet, but the media outlet says it’s hard to ignore the stories surfacing, and that bishops are growing increasingly concerned for the safety of priests.
Open Doors ranked Mexico 39th on its 2019 World Watch List, an annual ranking of the 50 most dangerous nations for Christians and persecution. Open Doors reports that organized crime in Mexico “primarily targets priests and pastors, while indigenous power holders pressure Christians through fines, denying basic community service and imprisonment.”
Thomas says: “We urge the international community to engage with the Mexican government on these matters and to recognise the role that many religious leaders play, not only as leaders of their churches, but also as voices for peace, justice and integrity, and as human rights defenders.”