A priest in the western Mexican state of Michoacan has been brutally murdered, becoming the ninth slain in the country in the past four years.
Rev Javier García Villafaña's body was found with several gunshot wounds, inside a vehicle his was driving near Capacho on the shores of Cuitzeo lake.
His death came one day after Monsignor Faustino Armendáriz Jiménez, archbishop of the northern state of Durango, was attacked in the state’s cathedral by an elderly man who tried to stab him. He escaped uninjured.
In a statement, the Mexican Episcopal Conference condemned the killing of Rev Garcia and the attack on Monsignor Faustino and called on authorities to find those responsible.
"It is a painful reminder of the serious situation we face as a society, in which the presence of organised crime and impunity continue to threaten the lives and safety of so many," the statement said.
According to the charity Open Doors, Christian leaders are often seen as a threat or symbol of defiance to criminal gangs controlling an area. If Christians refuse to comply with their demands or vocalise opposition to their criminal activities they risk being brutally beaten, kidnapped or murdered.
In 2021 a priest from the same state, commonly known as “Padre Pistolas” ("Father guns"), sparked controversy after he criticised the government’s lack of action, and called on his parishioners to arm themselves instead.
"The cartel gunmen come, they take the livestock, they screw your wife and daughter, and you do nothing," the Rev. Alfredo Gallegos said in a sermon. "Well, get yourself a gun, the government can go to hell." He was later suspended from the church.
Calls for the government to act on the violence against Christians have been growing in the last few years, with the Roman Catholic Mexican Council of Bishops urging the government to “revise the security policies that are failing".
Mexico currently ranks 38th in Open Doors' top 50 list of countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. The list identifies North Korea and Somalia as the most dangerous.