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Priest in Mexico saves 3 children after gang violence leaves one dead, church shot up

Interior of the Church of Santa Anita in Mexico after the gang confrontation. / Credit: Facebook of Father Enrique Urzúa

A priest rescued three abandoned children in a Mexican town following a confrontation between crime gangs that left one dead and a Catholic church riddled with bullets.

The church in the small settlement of Santa Anita (population 84) in the Diocese of Tarahumara in Chihuahua state was the scene of the confrontation between the rival gangs. The settlement is located fewer than 125 miles south of Cerocahui, also in Chihuahua, where almost a year ago two Jesuit priests were murdered inside a Catholic church.

According to the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office, at the scene more than 700 bullet casings, a grenade, 19 cartridges, and a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, “completely charred,” were found.

The attorney general’s office also said that “on the outskirts of the community’s church, a lifeless body of an unidentified male, approximately 35 years old, was located.”

The man, who was wearing green military-style clothing, had been decapitated.

Santa Anita is located just nine miles from the city of Guachochi, where the Diocese of Tarahumara is headquartered.

Father Enrique Urzúa, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral in Guachochi, arrived in Santa Anita on June 6. In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, he shared that what he found was “a heartbreaking situation.”

“They completely blasted the [church]” as well as the small room that served to welcome the missionaries who came to evangelize the town.

However, the human drama was even more overwhelming. “I came across three children who are without their parents and who were there, abandoned,” the priest said.

The youngest of the minors he rescued was just 1 year old, while the other two were 9 and 11.

He said he found them without food and took them to the parish “to provide them with food and see what to do” in order to help them.

The Mexican priest said that the criminals “directly blasted the church, because there are too many bullets inside and out” to just be stray shots.

“I don’t think that an armed gang can have something against us, against the Church. I don’t want to think that, but this is the fact,” he said.

After noting that June 21 will mark one year since the murder of the Jesuit priests Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, Urzúa lamented that in the Diocese of Tarahumara in Chihuahua they are “in an area where criminal presence is permanent.”

“It’s sad what we are experiencing, where we are living. It is not something passing, it’s something permanent,” he said.

Mexico is experiencing the most violent period in its modern history, and the homicide figures for the current six-year term of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador have surpassed those of his predecessors, totaling more than 156,136 as of May 31.

López Obrador acknowledged the historic record in his morning press conference on June 1 but attributed it to “a poor security legacy” from previous governments.

Through April in the state of Chihuahua, 567 first-degree murders were recorded.

From Jan. 1 to June 5 of this year, 11,475 homicides have been recorded throughout Mexico.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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