Two Jesuit priests have been killed inside a church where a man pursued by gunmen apparently sought refuge in a remote mountainous area of northern Mexico, the religious order's Mexican branch announced Tuesday.
Javier Campos Morales and Joaquin Cesar Mora Salazar were killed Monday inside the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua.
Violence has plagued the Tarahumara mountains for years. Cerocahui is near a point where Chihuahua state meets Sonora and Sinaloa, a major drug-producing region.
A statement from the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus in Mexico demanded justice and the return of the men's bodies. It said gunmen had taken them from the church.
"Acts like these are not isolated," the statement said. "The Tarahumara mountains, like many other regions of the country, face conditions of violence and abandonment that have not been reversed. Every day men and women are arbitrarily deprived of life, as our murdered brothers were today."
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said during his daily news conference Tuesday that the priests were apparently killed by gunmen pursuing another man who sought refuge in the church. That man was also killed, the president said.
Lopez Obrador said authorities have information about possible suspects in the killings and that the area has a strong organized crime presence.
Chihuahua Gov. Maria Eugenia Campos wrote in her Twiter account that she "laments and condemns" the killings, and said security arrangements had been discussed for priests in the area.
The killing of priests has been a persistent tragedy in Mexico, at least since the start of the drug war in 2006.
The church's Catholic Multimedia Center said seven priests have been murdered under the current administration, which took office in December 2018, and at least two dozen under the former president, who took office in 2012.
The center said that in 2021, a Franciscan priest died when he was caught in the crossfire of a drug gang shootout in the north-central state of Zacatecas as he drove to Mass. Another priest was killed in the central state of Morelos and another in the violence-plagued state of Guanajuato that year.
In 2019, a priest was stabbed to death in the northern border city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas.