The National Catholic Review

I received a phone call at about 4:30 in the afternoon, as I was getting ready to go visit a few people at the hospital,” the bishop told a group of priests, lay leaders and deacons he had invited to a sunlit room in his house in Mexico for a last-minute meeting. They had come to hear about an unusual experience of their bishop—negotiating the surrender of a local drug trafficker.

The phone call came from a woman who knew the bishop through a parish prayer group he used to facilitate. Her husband was a drug trafficker and was, at the moment she called for help, holding the woman and their two children hostage as he hunkered down in their house and prepared firearms to “defend” himself from the authorities who were coming to get him. After the woman’s distress call, the bishop called the authorities to let them know he was on his way to the house. He asked them to allow him to usher the wife and children to a safe place before they intervened. When he arrived, the bishop talked the man into surrendering to the police.

At the meeting, the bishop asked the clergy and lay leaders together to begin a diocesan-wide process to address the increasing violence in their area, much of it due to drugs but much of it also related to human trafficking, migration and poverty. The meeting took place in late June four years ago, but for security reasons the bishop and his diocese must still remain anonymous.

Since then, not only have the bishops of Mexico gathered to address the issue of drugs and the violence in their country, but many, like the bishop described here, have personally experienced some aspect of the circle of violence that illegal drug trafficking has brought. As a result, new ways of being Christian are arising in the Mexican church.

Parish youth programs in Tijuana and in Aguascalientes, for example, educate children about the problem of gang violence and drug addiction. Some programs in Puebla and Saltillo also address human trafficking. In the Archdioceses of Guadalajara and Hermosillo and the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez, therapy and support groups care for the victims of violence—both adults and children. Some of these groups acquire a missionary spirit and go on to organize neighborhood watch groups to prevent violence. All of these new programs demand a different kind of Christian faithful, ready to address the new, more challenging circumstances.

Rev. Juan Molina, a priest of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, is the policy advisor for Latin America and global trade in the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops