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MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Two priests were gunned down as they returned from Candlemas celebrations in a corner of Mexico rife with drug cartel violence and increasingly lethal for prelates.
Fathers Ivan Anorve Jaimes and Germain Muniz Garcia were killed early Feb. 5 as they drove between the cities of Taxco and Iguala in Guerrero state, some 100 miles south of Mexico City.
Guerrero state officials say an armed group blocked the priests' van and opened fire. The priests were traveling with four other passengers, all of whom were injured.
Church officials in Guerrero condemned the slayings and called for a thorough investigation.
"We are dismayed by this tragic event, which the archdiocesan community (of Acapulco) and the community of the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa mourns," the Archdiocese of Acapulco said in a statement. Father Anorve was a priest of the archdiocese, while Father Muniz was part of the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa.
"We will not stop in our efforts to build peace," the statement continued. "We ask the Lord for this peace every day."
The most recent murders offered a reminder of the risks run by priests in Mexico, where the violence of the past 11 years has not spared clergy.
The Catholic Multimedia Center counts 21 priests murdered since December 2012, with the cases overwhelmingly remaining unpunished. In Guerrero state alone, at least six priests have been killed since 2009, including Comboni Father John Ssenyondo, a Ugandan missionary, whose body was pulled from a clandestine grave.
Mexico has seen increasing violence due to drug cartel conflicts and a failure of the federal government to improve policing, curb corruption or implement the rule of law.
In 2017, Mexico suffered its most murderous year since records started being kept in 1997. The violence is so severe in Guerrero state, which registered 2,138 homicides in 2017, that morgues have been unable to handle the bodies arriving for autopsies.
Guerrero has long ranked among Mexico's poorest states. In 2014, it captured worldwide attention when police, acting in cahoots with organized crime, caused the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala. Cartels clash over poppy production. processing heroin and smuggling it to the United States.
Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa has sought out those involved in criminal activities to start a dialogue and decrease violence in Guerrero. He also has spoken against the insecurity and said state and federal response is flawed.
"I notice that with so much security, the army and police, they still can't control the situation. Or we already have the bad guys on the inside or someone opens the door" to criminals, he told local media Feb. 4.
His comments have angered local officials. After the priests' murders, the state government leaked images to the newsweekly Proceso of Bishop Rangel posing in a remote location with others in front of a helicopter and Father Muniz posing for a photo while holding an assault rifle.
Attempts to reach Bishop Rangel were unsuccessful.