Ugandan priest John Ssenyondo loved his adopted country of Mexico and preached against violence until his body was found in a mass grave.
NEJAPA - Ugandan priest John Ssenyondo loved his adopted country of Mexico and preached against violence until his body was found in a mass grave between fields of corn and beans.
Six months after he was abducted, Ssenyondo was identified among 13 bodies discovered by local people in the southern state of Guerrero, a state reeling from a wave of gang violence.
The 55-year-old missionary was swallowed up by the same murderous inferno that he had denounced and which has killed tens of thousands of people since 2006.
Ssenyondo, who moved to Mexico six years ago, was abducted by gunmen on April 30 after he led mass in a village near Nejapa, where he preached, according to witnesses.
People searched for him, but it was months later, on October 29, that his body was found by locals near the town of Ocotitlan.
He was identified through dental records last week, shocking the residents of Nejapa, a village of 3,000 people.
"He was a priest who was worth gold. They took away a treasured person," said Lorenza Zeferino, 70, standing outside the village's small, yellow church before Saturday's mass.
"A few didn't like him because he pointed out their mistakes. That's why he was abducted and taken down," Zeferino said as a handful of parishioners entered the church and a choir sang "hallelujah."
The Uganda priest's unsolved murder came as Mexico reels over the disappearance and presumed massacre of 43 college students in another part of Guerrero in September.
The mass disappearance of the students has led authorities to a dozen mass graves containing 39 bodies near the city of Iguala, though none have been identified as the students so far.
The priest's grave has not been linked to the Iguala investigation.
"This is out of control. We are hurting, dismayed. What happened to the priest and the students is extremely bad," said Victor Aguilar, vicar of the Chilpancingo-Chilapa diocese, which includes Nejapa.
Like countless other crimes in Mexico, the reason behind Ssenyondo's murder is unclear.
Some townspeople believe he was killed for refusing to baptize a child whose chosen godparents were not married -- and were members of a local drug gang.
Others say point their fingers at a Nejapa official linked to drug traffickers.
"Those who killed him are from Nejapa. I'm not afraid of dying for saying the truth. They were hitmen paid to do it," Zeferino said, holding a cross to her chest.
"Things have gotten worse here. There have been several deaths."
From his pulpit, Ssenyondo talked about the problems of a country that has endured a drug war that has killed more than 80,000 people and left 22,000 more missing since 2006.
"With tough words, without beating around the bush, he talked about the country's violence, the state and drug trafficking. There are people in organized crime here," said churchgoer Placido Flores, looking out of the corner of his eyes as he spoke inside the church.
Ssenyondo had received threats and was mugged twice, residents said.
His successor admits his own fears.
"Scared? Yes, of course," said Father Bertoldo Pantaleon. "One has to take over this parish with a lot of caution and faith in God. We are all exposed."
'No more blood'
Ssenyondo was not the first clergyman to be killed in the area, Aguilar said
"A priest was killed a few months ago for not paying a ransom. More than 25 have been threatened in the area and three have paid off extortion," the vicar said, adding that two gangs are fighting for control of the region.
"Mexico is a majority Catholic country, but they don't even respect a priest anymore," he said.
Attacks on clergymen have been reported elsewhere in the country.
Two priests were killed in the eastern state of Veracruz this month and another vanished in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
Mexico's Episcopal Conference issued a stern statement last week denouncing the violence afflicting the country.
"Enough already! We don't want more blood. We don't want more deaths. We don't want more disappearances. We don't want more pain and more shame," it said.
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