A pastor in Mexico was shot and killed during a church service amid ongoing targeting of faith leaders by criminal gangs. According to international watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Pastor Cruz Canseco was preaching from the pulpit of his church in the town of Tlalixtac de Cabrera when he was shot at point-blank range. Canseco died while he was being transported to hospital. His attacker was arrested after congregants prevented his escape. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and congregation of Pastor Canseco,” CSW Chief Executive Merwyn Thomas said. “The fact that he was targeted while in the pulpit is particularly shocking.”
A statement on the Church Facebook page reads: “We regret the death of Cruz Canseco, friend and brother in Christ very loved by our congregation.” Although the motive remains uncertain, CSW, notes that the killing comes on the heels of a recent series of attacks that have targeted religious leaders in the region. Among the recent attacks was the kidnapping of Pastor Mendez Ruiz, who ran a shelter for Cuban immigrants in Nuevo Laredo and was abducted on August 3. “We are concerned for the wellbeing of Pastor Ruiz and urge the Mexican government to spare no effort in ensuring his safe return, investigating all of these crimes and prosecuting those responsible,”
Thomas stated. CSW warns that the expansion of criminal groups in Mexico as well as a “climate of impunity” when it comes to crimes they commit, has led to an increase in violence against Protestant and Catholic leaders because they are viewed as a threat to criminal groups. According to CSW, 10 religious leaders were killed in Mexico in 2018. As questions have been raised as to why church leaders in a predominantly Catholic country are increasingly being abducted, or killed, USA Today reported that at least 23 religious leaders had been killed in Mexico since 2012. Earlier, the Catholic Multimedia Centre reported that at least 26 Catholic priests have been killed since 2012.
“We urge the international community to engage with the Mexican government on these matters and to recognize the role that many religious leaders play as voices for peace, justice and integrity, and as human rights defenders,” Thomas said. Mexico ranks as the 39th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution as organized crime in the country continues to go unchecked according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List. According to Open Doors, Christians, their leaders and church buildings in Mexico are increasingly becoming victims of attacks, threats, extortion and other forms of coercion throughout the entire country.
“Due to the government’s inability to confront violence, some Christians feel forced to implement their own security strategies against acts of Christian persecution, including engaging leaders of criminal groups themselves,” an Open Doors USA factsheet reads. “Organized crime primarily targets priests and pastors, while indigenous power holders pressure Christians through fines, denying basic community service and imprisonment.” In its 2017 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said “Religious leaders are targeted because they speak out against the gangs and they refuse to include gang spiritual mythology in their sermons.”
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