By Ioan Grillo / Time
The Catholic Church has been criticized for doing too little to fight murderous cartels in Mexico. Will Pope Francis change that?
After a drug cartel left severed heads in town plazas and discos, the Catholic priest Gregorio Lopez realized that he could no longer be silent. From the pulpit in his native state of Michoacan, he condemned the bloodshed and urged his flock to stand up to the gunmen. Lopez, who is known as “Father Goyo,” earned a series of death threats for his courage, and he took to giving mass in a bulletproof jacket.
“I saw how they were killing my friends, my brothers, my sheep, and as the pastor I have the obligation to be speaking out,” Lopez said.
Lopez has since taken a sabbatical from giving mass but continues to serve in the Church.
The drug war has been a troubling challenge for the Church in Mexico, where 82 percent of people profess to be Catholic. Cartel gunmen have beaten and murdered clerics, such as in 2014 when assassins killed a priest from Uganda in Guerrero state and left his corpse in a mass grave. At the same time, drug traffickers have built chapels and given donations to churches, known here as “narco alms.”
Pope Francis is shining a new light on this problem in his first official visit to Mexico, beginning tomorrow, Feb. 12, in which he will travel to some of the country’s most troubled areas, including Michoacan and Ciudad Juarez.