JUAREZ, Chihuahua, Mex.—Father Isidro Payan was saying mass for a group of children on a Sunday morning, one week before Lent, when he was approached by his deacon, who informed him that a 28-year-old man had been executed outside the church, less than 25 yards away. The mother of the victim was pleading for the priest to administer Extreme Unction, the last rites, over her son’s inert body.
“I left the mass in the charge of the deacon and went to attend the request and did what I had to do as a priest,” said father Payan three days after the tragedy. He was sitting in his office at Saint Trinity, a church he has headed for the last five years, after having served for 37 years at the cathedral downtown.
“He was already dead,” said the 83year-old priest.
Contrary to news reports, he said, children inside the church were never in danger or frightened because the church doors were closed and the walls are thick. “We never heard any shots whatsoever. They [the children] found out about what happened when the mass was over and they went outside,’’ he explained.
Walking a Tightrope
Bound by both the Church's discretion and the Mexican Constitution -- which restricts the role of the Catholic Church in civic life -- Catholic priests in Mexico are cautious in how they confront the recent widespread violence.
By law, priests can’t be involved in political issues. But many priests in Juarez say that not being involved does not mean they shouldn’t take a stand--morally.
“We have to be careful how we say things and how we refer to the gangs or the police. But we can’t remain quiet or ignore the pain our community is suffering,” said Father Francisco Galo Sanchez. He is
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