Catholic priest found dead in northern Mexico

Mexico City — A Catholic priest has been found dead in northern Mexico, marking another attack on clergy in a country where the widespread violence of the past decade has not spared church leaders.

The body of Father Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes, 42, was discovered Jan. 11 in Parras de la Fuente, approximately 90 miles west of his working-class parish in Saltillo, while his vehicle was discovered abandoned in another state, the Coahuila state prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Details on the disappearance of Hernandez remain uncertain, although Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera Lopez said Jan. 11 that two suspects had been arrested.

Hernandez was last seen celebrating Mass New Year's Day at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in a community known as La Aurora and was scheduled to take vacation thereafter.

Colleagues became suspicious when they were unable to reach Hernandez on his cellphone, according to a diocesan statement. His room in the parish residence appeared messy, with draws left open and clothing strewn on the floor — uncharacteristic for Hernandez — while his suitcase had been left behind, along with his reading glasses.

Neighbors spotted two young men driving away with the priest's car Jan. 3, but Hernandez was not with them. Vera Lopez said two suspects had been arrested, though the authorities had yet to confirm the details.

"All of Mexican society is exposed. Priests are not spared from violence," said Vera Lopez, whose diocese has worked tirelessly to provide legal and spiritual support for the families of missing persons in the state of Coahuila, which borders Texas.

Hernandez was ordained in 2004, had worked in the diocesan family ministry and was pursuing a master's degree in family studies at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Study on Marriage and Family at Anahuac University.

"Father Joaquin was someone who searched for perfection in every activity he did; the desire to always innovate in his work was reflected in the love of the faithful, including during these past 10 days," while he was disappeared, the diocesan statement said.

The disappearance and death of Hernandez marks the fourth time in four months that a Mexican priest has been murdered. Another priest, Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, was found alive with signs of torture after being abducted in Veracruz state.

At least 16 priests have been killed since December 2012, according to a count by Mexico's Catholic Multimedia Center.

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