'Let it begin with me': Parishioners work for peace in Ju·rez

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, MEXICO -- In a city that has become synonymous with violence and despair during a four-year drug war that has claimed more than 12,000 residents, parishioners at a small church are trying to change the image of Ciudad Juárez -- one person at a time.

Mass unites Mexicans, Americans separated by border fence

ANAPRA, Mexico -- The Mexican bishop often exchanged glances with his American counterpart as they celebrated the All Souls' Day Mass. But instead of embracing at the kiss of peace, they touched palms -- though the chain-link fence.

Franciscans risk stoning to provide aid to poor along border fence

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. -- The compact car lifted a trail of dust as it traveled slowly along the 18-foot-tall chain-link fence, attracting the attention of the U.S. Border Patrol agent sitting in his green and white SUV.

In Mexico, priests face death, extortion

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (CNS) -- Ministering in a city where crime is pervasive and murders occur at an alarming rate, Columban Fr. Kevin Mullins knows he's been very fortunate.

While he has personally escaped the violence, the Australian-born priest has been touched by it through the lives of his parishioners at Corpus Christi Church in the poor neighborhood of Puerto de Anapra.

During Advent 2008, though, there was a time when parishioners and fellow priests were praying for his soul, thinking he had been killed during an attack by drug cartel gunmen.

"I have been quite lucky," Mullins said in a thick Australian accent. "It was actually an Anglican minister who had a heart attack and was found in his car a few blocks away from my house."

In Mexico, the sight of a priest slumped over in a car is not all that unusual. In 2005, Fr. Luis Velasquez Romero was found in his vehicle in Tijuana, handcuffed and shot six times. In 2009 a priest and two seminarians were gunned down in their car, dragged out then shot again because a relative of one of the seminarians was believed to be associated with one of the country's notorious drug cartels.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war against the cartels in 2006 more than 40,000 people have been killed, including 12 priests. A survey from the Catholic Media Center in Mexico found that in 2010 more than 1,000 priests were extorted, 162 threatened with death and two kidnapped and killed.