Fr. Walter Osmir Vásquez Jiménez was shot and killed the afternoon of March 29, Holy Thursday, on a dirt road outside of the town of Lolotique, El Salvador, as he was on his way to celebrate Mass.
The Archdiocese of San Salvador released a statement expressing “its sorrow over the murder of Fr. Walter Vásquez. We express our solidarity with the Diocese of Santiago de María and his relatives.”
“We urge the appropriate authorities to determine the facts,” they added.
According to the National Civil Police of El Salvador, the priest, 36, was stopped and killed “when he was riding in a car to celebrate a Mass in a place known as La Casona.”
The local press attribute the crime to gangs active in the area.
According to the Italian publication l'Avvenire, three armed men wearing ski masks robbed the priest and other passengers in the vehicle, taking their wallets, watches and cell phones. They then ordered the priest to get out of the car and took him some 150 feet away and shot him. However, Fr. Vásquez Jiménez was only grazed by the bullet and attempted to flee, when he was then shot again and killed.
Witnesses claim it was “an execution.”
Although the motive for the killing is unknown, l'Avvenire reported that the victim exercised his ministry in a violent area of the country where the gangs extort businesses and the priests often try to provide protection for the inhabitants. They also support young men who do not want to join the gangs.
“We're on the front lines, every day we wonder when they're going to shoot us, and we're surprised they still haven't done it,” said a priest whose name was withheld for security reasons.
The president of El Salvador expressed his “condolences to the family of Fr. Vásquez Jiménez and the country's entire Catholic community.”
The Salvadoran government said that it has instructed the police “to ramp up security in Lolotique and at all the religious celebrations nationwide.”
In addition “a quick and thorough investigation of the case” was ordered “to find those responsible to promptly bring them to justice.”
The Diocese of Santiago de María said that Fr. Vásquez Jiménez “was parochial vicar of Our Lady of Mercy parish in the town of Mercedes Uma√±a, and this week he had been assigned to work during Holy Week at Most Holy Trinity parish in the town of Lolotique.”
“We express our condolences and solidarity” with the family of the priest and to the faithful he cared for,” the Salvadoran diocese stated.
“We condemn violence of any kind,” they said in a statement while they thanked “ the authorities for their prompt response in face of such a sacrilegious act,” in order to “find those responsible for the crime and that justice be done.”
Hundreds of faithful attended the priest’s funeral Mass and burial in Lolotique on April 1. Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, presided at the Mass, which was concelebrated by the Archbishop of San Salvador, Luis Escobar Alas.
The archbishop stated that “unfortunately we must recognize and denounce sin, injustice, lies, corruption, arms trafficking, drugs and so many social evils, especially the violence which has caused and continues to cause so much pain.”
“It is incredible that on Holy Thursday, after having participated in the Chrism Mass, one of our priests, Fr. Walter Osmir Vásquez, would be violently murdered. It is not possible that this should happen in a Christian country,” he added.
Speaking to the media, the prelate stressed that “it is not only the person of the priest that moves us to sorrow but all those who die because of these kinds of situations which end up in these grave, very grave incidents.”
Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, emphasized that “we are here along with Fr. Walter to say: Yes to life, yes to love, yes to forgiveness, yes to justice.”
This article is a CNA translation and adaption of stories originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa.