As increased levels of violence in Mexico continue, the Mexican Bishops Conference has published a protocol guide to help prevent crimes against priests, religious and faithful in the country.
The protocols are not intended to hinder “the pastoral activity of bishops, nuns and lay people, but to [help them] do it in the safest possible way,” said Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, secretary general of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.
The bishop spoke at a June 19 press conference unveiling the document, “Basic Church Security Protocols: Personnel and Religious Sites.”
The document offers safety processes in different situations, such as pastoral visits and Masses in outlying areas. It includes an inventory form for church-related equipment and items of value.
Advice includes details about how to handle travel, making a withdrawal from an ATM, and what to do if you are kidnapped, robbed, threatened, or extorted.
When traveling to an unfamiliar area, the document recommends doing a trial run to learn the way, and researching the safest times to go out.
Security measures are also proposed for churches, houses of religious communities and other sites.
Violence in Mexico, mainly organized crime, has intensified in recent years. It is estimated that 2017 was the most violent year in recent decades, with more than 25,000 homicides.
According to the Catholic Multimedia Center, 24 priests have been killed in the last six years, including four so far in 2018.
Bishop Miranda said that “the security protocols respond to what has happened in the last two, three years, where there have been more and more murders, not just of priests but also journalists, police officers, soldiers and also candidates…for public office.”
“If this protocol serves to prevents one more death, it will have been a success,” he said.
Fr. Rogelio Narváez Martinez, the executive secretary of the Bishops' Committee on Social Ministry and director of Mexican Caritas, said that it is not only the deaths of priests and religious that worry the Church.
“What is concerning to us is the death of any Mexican, the death of any person, of someone who's at the mall, or going to the church, who's in a plaza, going in a car, or going with his family.”
“Every death is a wound upon our nation,” he said.
Archbishop Carlos Garfias Merlos of Morelia, who heads up the bishops' Working Group on Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, said that while the protocols are designed to respond to violence, they can also be helpful in other emergency situations, such as natural disasters.
“We know there are some places in Mexico every year that due to natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tremors we find ourselves in emergency situations,” he said
Bishop Miranda said that there are no plans for “police or soldiers in the churches.”
He also clarified that “the protocols are proposals” and “not a law we're putting on the Church.”
“These are measures suggested to the priests, bishops, etc. And also according to the capacity of every parish. Where it can be done, it is recommended that alarm systems be put in place. Where it's not possible, at least there should be minimum security measures.”
In a June 19 statement, Fr. Omar Sotelo, director of the Catholic Multimedia Center, emphasized that the document published by the bishops “responds to the needs of what's happening in our country.”
“It's a security plan, a protocol which one way or another helps prevention,” he said.
For Fr. Sotelo, the violence in Mexico “has become widespread, more sophisticated and has touched important sectors of society.”
The director of the Catholic Multimedia Center said the document also “calls to the attention of the authorities that they have not done their work effectively.”
According to Fr. Sotelo, “some authorities, not all of them, have been corrupted or have been overrun by” organized crime.
He noted that addressing the underlying issue of organized crime is “very complicated.”
“It's hard to change the mentality of thousands of people who unfortunately have become dehumanized and have resorted to organized crime to make their way in life. To transform this kind of a situation it going to take a lot of work.”
However, recalling the Gospel admonition to love one’s enemies, he said that “we have to make a way to reach these people's hearts.”
“Reaching out to these people is a process, an important element that we mustn't neglect,” he said.
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.