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MEXICO CITY — Gunmen burst into a Catholic church in northern Mexico on Monday in pursuit of a man trying to flee to safety, murdering him and two Jesuit priests who happened to be there, officials said. The killings shocked even Mexicans accustomed to high levels of violence.

The incident occurred in the Tarahumara mountains of Chihuahua state. The largely Indigenous region has been penetrated in recent years by drug traffickers who cultivate poppies for heroin production and carry out illegal logging.

The Jesuits said in a statement that the Rev. Javier Campos Morales and Rev. Joaquín César Mora Salazar were killed in the church in the town of Cerocahui. The religious order demanded justice and the return of the bodies of the Mexican priests, which were removed by the armed men. The third victim has not been identified.

The slayings were not an isolated event, the Jesuits said. “The Sierra Tarahumara, like many other regions of the country, suffers violence and neglect,” their statement read. “Every day men and women are arbitrarily slain, just like our brothers.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at his morning news conference that armed men rushed into the church chasing another person. “They killed him, then the priests emerged, and it seems they were killed too,” he said. He added that authorities had information on the identity of the gunmen, but didn’t provide detail.

The government of Chihuahua state said the priests appeared to be “victims of circumstance.”

Hundreds of Indigenous families have been forced to flee their homes in the Tarahumara mountains in recent years, part of a growing crisis of displacement in Mexico as organized-crime groups expand their territorial control. About 30 Indigenous leaders have been killed in the region in the past two decades, according to Mexican news reports.

The Jesuits are known in Mexico for their universities and their programs to help poor and violence-plagued communities. “The Jesuits of Mexico will not be silent about the reality that lacerates our society,” their statement said. “We will remain present, working on our mission of justice, reconciliation and peace.”

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