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Nuns withdraw from ministry in Mexican city wrought by violence

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Francisca Meza, EPA

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — An order of nuns has withdrawn from an especially violent city after the parents and sister of one of the women religious were kidnapped and killed.

The Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, where two priests were murdered Feb. 5, said in a statement that the nuns from the “Comunidad Guadalupana” (Guadalupe Community) had withdrawn because of a lack of security, leaving a school it operated in the city of Chilapa without staff.

Schools in Chilapa had suspended classes from September to December because of the insecurity, the statement said.

The nuns’ withdrawal from Chilapa is but the latest hardship for the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, which serves parts of southern state of Guerrero, where the heroin trade has exploded in recent years. At least six priests have been murdered there since 2009.

Two priests, Fathers Germain Muniz García and Ivan Anorve Jaime, were shot dead as they drove back from Candlemas celebrations with four other passengers, three of whom were injured.

State prosecutor Xavier Olea Pelaez said originally that the priests had attended the celebrations, where there were armed individuals from three states and that a criminal group and a neighboring state had shot the priests. Olea also said a photo, showing Father Muniz holding an assault rifle and posing with masked men, prompted confusion.

Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, who has had a tense relationship with the state government, rejected the prosecutor’s version of events as a “fairy tale,” saying the photo was at least a year old and likely taken with members of a community security force in Father Muniz’s hometown. The bishop said after speaking with survivors, who included Father Muniz’s sister, that there had been an “incident” on the highway coming back from the celebrations.

“What they’re trying to do is blame us,” Bishop Rangel said of the prosecutor’s statements. “According to them, we move among narcotics traffickers, hence the murdered priests.”

In a Feb. 15 statement, the state government said the priests were not members of a criminal group and confirmed details voiced by the bishop.

The priests’ murders highlighted a continuing dispute between the state government and Bishop Rangel, who has sought out cartel bosses for dialogue to calm the state and to allow his priests to serve poor and isolated communities sustained by planting opium poppies.

He also has spoken critically of alleged collusion between the cartels and politicians, the police and the army.

“All of Guerrero is controlled by narcotics traffickers. This is a fact,” Bishop Rangel told Catholic News Service. “The authorities themselves have been displaced.”

Chilapa has turned especially violent as drug cartels fight over the city, which is considered strategically important for transporting heroin to the United States.

At least 15 drug cartels are operating in Guerrero, according to state government spokesman Roberto Alvarez Heredia, who attributed the rising violence over territory and a burgeoning illegal heroin-supply business. He said the cartels engage in kidnapping and extortion because it provides quick cash to cover the “payrolls” for their foot soldiers.

Alvarez said the authorities “did not share” Bishop Rangel’s opinions and did not look well on his meeting with criminal groups, but they did “respect” the bishop and his office.

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