A priest in a Mexico border town was stabbed to death last week inside his parish, becoming the latest among over two dozen priests who have been killed in the country in recent years.
The Diocese of Matamoros, which sits across the border from Brownsville, Texas, announced the death of 55-year-old Father José Martín Guzmán Vega last Friday.
"With deep pain we participate in the unfortunate death of the presbyter José Martín Guzmán Vega, of whom the competent authorities have already begun investigations to clarify the facts and do justice," Eugenio Lira Rugarcía, Bishop of Matamoros, said in a statement, according to the Catholic Multimedia Center.
"Meanwhile, we express our condolences to the Guzmán Vega family and the Cristo Rey de la Paz Parish Community, Ejido Santa Adelaida, and we invite everyone to join in prayer to ask God for the eternal rest of Fr. Martin."
According to the Catholic Multimedia Center, sources say that Guzmán Vega was attacked last Thursday night around 10 p.m. and was stabbed several times with a knife.
“[N]eighbors heard cries for help inside the parish when they approached they saw Father José Martín seriously injured so he was transferred to the General Hospital of the town to be treated,” a source was quoted as saying. “Minutes later his death was declared.”
According to the center, Guzmán Vega’s death was the first killing of a Roman Catholic priest this year in Mexico but marks the 27th priest to have been killed in Mexico since 2012.
The Associated Press reports that no immediate information was available on the motive for the priest’s murder.
Guzmán Vega’s death follows the recent killing of Pastor Alfrery Líctor Cruz Canseco on Aug. 18. Canseco was reportedly shot at point-blank range while sitting in his car outside Fraternidad Cristiana church in the town of Tlalixtac de Cabrera in Oaxaca state.
On Aug. 3, a Presbyterian minister named Aarón Méndez Ruiz was kidnapped from a migrant shelter he ran in the border city of Nuevo Laredo and has not been heard from since. AP reports that one migrant believes that the minister may have been taken by his captors while trying to defend Cuban migrants who can often be targets for extortion because they have relatives in the U.S.
Mexico ranks as the 39th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List.
Open Doors, which monitors persecution in dozens of countries, reports that one factor for the persecution of Christians and Catholics in the country is because organized crime continues to go unconfronted by the government.
“Organized crime primarily targets priests and pastors, while indigenous power holders pressure Christians through fines, denying basic community service and imprisonment,” an Open Doors factsheet reads.
The congressionally-mandated U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has also voiced concern about the impact organized crime is having on religious freedom.
In its 2017 annual report, USCIRF warned about the targeting of Catholic priests and other religious leaders by organized criminal gangs such as Los Zetas and Knights Templar. The report noted that over the span of a week in September 2016, three priests were found dead.