Kidnapped priest found dead on Christmas in southern Mexico

Mexico City — A Catholic priest was kidnapped from a seminary and found murdered in Guerrero, the same state in southern Mexico where 43 students were kidnapped and probably killed in September.

The body of Fr. Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta was found on Christmas along a highway in the municipality of Tlapehuala, 180 miles southeast of Mexico City, said Fr. Fidencio Avellaneda Reinoso, diocese of Ciudad Altamirano spokesman.

Avellaneda told Catholic News Service that Lopez was grabbed from a seminary at gunpoint Dec. 21. He said the priest was shot in the head, although asphyxiation was ruled the cause of death because his mouth and nose were covered with tape.

"Today, I communicate with great sorrow that our brother Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta has departed for his father's house," read a message on the Facebook page of the Cathedral of Ciudad Altamirano. "God forgive whoever did such an abhorrent action."

The murder of Lopez made national news and came as the country continued expressing outrage over the missing and murdered college students.

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Their parents passed Christmas Eve, a time traditionally spent celebrating with family, protesting outside the Mexican president's residence. Only one of the missing students has been confirmed dead.

The priest's murder also came within a month of President Enrique Pena Nieto announcing plans to calm the country and an initiative to send soldiers and police to the Tierra Caliente region -- served by the diocese of Ciudad Altamirano -- in a high-profile attack on organized crime.

Organized crime violence has crippled Guerrero, one of Mexico's poorest states, and hit the church hard, especially in the diocese of Ciudad Altamirano, which has had several priests suffer attacks in recent years.

"The diocese of Ciudad Altamirano has suffered greatly as a consequence of the situation the entire country is experiencing," Bishop Maximino Martinez Miranda said in a statement.

"Bishop, priests and the community of God, we protest to demand justice and peace. ... 'Enough Now,' is the shout of all of Mexico's bishops and this diocese."

Martinez led priests and parishioners in a protest march Dec. 24 through Ciudad Altamirano, demanding the return of Martinez and calling for an end to attacks on clergy and the population at large.

"The violence is becoming very aggressive," Avellaneda said. The incident, he added, "is only going to cause more dismay."

According to the diocesan statement, Lopez was abducted at around 11:30 p.m. Dec. 21, when he returned to the seminary after a day of celebrating Mass in the cathedral and taking in a "pastorela," a Christmas play commonly performed in Mexico. The following day, a break-in was attempted at the seminary residence for women religious. No kidnappers tried to contact the diocese or seminary after Lopez's abduction.

The death of Lopez is the fourth murder in five years for the diocese of Ciudad Altamirano. Fr. Ascension Acuna Osorio of San Miguel Totolapan was found dead in a river in late September, while Fr. Habacuc Hernandez Benitez and two seminarians were shot dead as they drove through Ciudad Alamirano in 2009.

In the neighboring diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, Ugandan Comboni Fr. John Ssenyondo was murdered and his body found in a mass grave in November. His murder remains unsolved, although diocesan officials suspect he was being extorted.


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