Confiscated bullets are seen Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in this 2012 file photo. After Fr. Luis López Villa, 71, was murdered in suburban Mexico City, July 5, Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, secretary-general of the Mexican bishops’ conference, told local media that priests are worried about the alarming rate of violence against them. (CNS photo/Alejandro Bringas, EPA)

By David Agren
Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — A 71-year-old priest was found murdered July 5 in suburban Mexico City, marking another attack on clergy in a country with a soaring homicide rate.

Fr. Luis López Villa, pastor of the San Isidro Labrador Parish in the rough municipality of Los Reyes La Paz, was discovered in his home, his hands tied and stabbed in the neck.

The Diocese of Nezahualcóyotl, which serves the suburbs founded by squatters on the east side of the national capital, confirmed the attack in a July 6 statement. The Mexico state prosecutor’s office said assailants had entered the parish residence to commit robbery.

“The presbyterate and lay faithful of the Diocese of Nezahualcóyotl are very appalled and sad for this regrettable and sorrowful news,” said Nezahualcóyotl Bishop Héctor Luis Morales Sánchez in a statement on the diocese’s website. “We lift up our prayers to God that [Fr. López] is enjoying eternity with Him in His glory.”

Bishop Morales also prayed for Fr. López’s family, the families of the diocese, the authorities investigating the murder so they may bring those responsible to justice and for the murderers themselves.

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“Following the command of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 18:22), we pray also for those who assassinated Fr. Luis López Villa and forgot that we are all brothers and sisters, and who are sowing suffering and death, that God will grants them the gift of repentance and conversion,” Bishop Morales added. “We pray for peace in our families, that it may cultivate the values and virtues that our country may live in peace. We remember that peace is a gift from God, but it is also the task, commitment and responsibility of all.”

Fr. López was born Jan. 20, 1946 in Santiaguillo, Michoacán, and ordained to the priesthood on July 18, 1985 in Amecameca, Mexico State.

Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, president of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, expressed his condolences to the people of the Diocese of Nezahualcóyotl in a statement on the conference’s website.

“In these moments of suffering, Christians look with hope to the resurrected Christ, we are certain that evil will not overcome, that death isn’t the end of the message of love and hope that our Lord Jesus Christ brought and that Fr. Luis lived throughout his priestly life,” Cardinal Robles said. “We ask God for his eternal rest and we also ask that the Lord grant his family and friends with the strength, hope and comfort of faith.”

Fr. López was the 18th priest murdered since December 2012, when President Enrique Peña Nieto took power, according to a count by the Catholic Multimedia Organization. Seventeen priests were murdered during the previous six-year presidential term, during which time then-President Felipe Calderón declared a crackdown on drug cartels.

A decade later, however, Mexico’s homicide rate is racing to record levels. Mexico has recorded 11,155 murders in the first five months of 2017. May, meanwhile, was the most murderous month since the country started keeping such statistics in 1997.

Church officials expressed alarm at the rising violence in the country and the attacks on priests.

“We are worried,” Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola of Monterrey, secretary-general of the Mexican bishops’ conference, told the newspaper Reforma. “Priests are part of the citizenry, and at the national level we are going through the same difficulties of so much violence, organized crime, narcotics trafficking and later robberies and kidnappings that have not ceased.”

A funeral Mass was celebrated July 7 at San Isidro Labrador Parish.