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Mexican Jesuits Father Javier Campos Morales and Father Joaquín César Mora Salazar were murdered in their rural parish June 20, 2022, while providing shelter to an individual fleeing a gunman. U.S. members of Congress are calling for action about the slayings of the two Jesuits. (CNS photo/courtesy The Jesuit province in Mexico)

A group of two dozen Democratic House members wrote to President Biden this week, urging his administration to assist the Mexican government in bringing to justice the individual allegedly responsible for the murder of two Jesuit priests and a local tour guide in Chihuahua, Mexico, in June.

“This tragedy is emblematic of the rampant violence that plagues many regions of Mexico and takes a devastating humanitarian toll on the Mexican people,” the lawmakers wrote. “We write to urge your administration to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure prompt and full justice for these killings and to encourage the implementation of policies to end the cycle of violence.”

“We write to urge your administration to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure prompt and full justice for these killings and to encourage the implementation of policies to end the cycle of violence.”

The two priests, Javier Campos, 79, and Joaquin Mora, 80, were murdered on June 20 after discovering inside the church a local tour guide, Pedro Palma, bleeding from gunshot wounds. Reports say that one of the priests began anointing Mr. Palma, when the suspected gunman shot him and the second priest. A third priest arrived, reported The Guardian, who listened to the suspect’s confession before he fled with the three bodies. The bodies were found days later.

The church is located in a region of Mexico suffering violence associated with the illegal drug trade. Police say the suspect in the killings is José Noriel Portillo Gil, who is already wanted in the murder of a U.S. tourist in 2018.

[Related: The Jesuit priests killed in Mexico were more than just names in a headline]

In the letter to President Biden, the members of Congress pointed to the unique threats facing clergy in Mexico.

“Members of the clergy are particularly vulnerable to violence because they serve disadvantaged communities where organized crime is most prevalent,” the lawmakers wrote. “They also act as peacemakers, mediating disputes between gangs in regions with minimal government presence.”

“By increasing our efforts to address the crisis of violence afflicting our Mexican neighbors, we will honor the legacies of Fathers Campos and Mora and all those lost to this senseless bloodshed.”

Violence at the hands of drug cartels has roiled rural Mexico in recent years, which the lawmakers highlighted in their letter. Last year, the letter states, there were more than 33,000 recorded homicides in Mexico, up from about 16,000 in 2014.

The most recent murders of the two priests drew condemnation from the Jesuits and Pope Francis and is just the latest homicide involving Catholic clergy in Mexico. According to church sources, more than 30 priests have been killed there since 2012, most of which remain open cases.

Catholic leaders in Mexico have renewed their calls for the government to do more to combat the violence, raising the ire of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The members of Congress asked the Biden administration to help with problems caused by corruption and a lack of resources for law enforcement.

“We urge your administration to deepen cooperation with the Mexican government and civil society groups to root out corruption, increase the investigative capacity of Mexican law enforcement, and strengthen the independence of prosecutors and judges in Mexico,” the letter states. “By increasing our efforts to address the crisis of violence afflicting our Mexican neighbors, we will honor the legacies of Fathers Campos and Mora and all those lost to this senseless bloodshed.”

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