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Mexico’s bishops call for search for missing priest

A Mexican flag adorned with black mourning ribbons (AP)

The Mexican Council of Bishops called on authorities on Tuesday to search for a priest who has been missing for a week.

The council said Fr Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes is a parish priest in the northern state of Coahuila, which has been plagued by drug cartel violence.

It’s unclear if foul play was involved in his disappearance, but the council said that “crime and violence destroy the most sacred thing we have, life.”

Fr Hernandez was supposed to take a short vacation from his duties beginning on January 3, according to the Saltillo Diocese. But a close friend was unable to reach him by phone that day. Early that same morning, a neighbour saw two young men take Fr Hernandez’s car, but did not see the priest with them.

The friend went to the priest’s residence at the church and found his room in a mess, with closet and drawers open and clothes on the floor, unusual for a priest who was very neat and orderly, the diocese said.

Two days later the friend returned to the priest’s residence and noticed that his suitcase packed with clothes and other belongings was still there along with the glasses that he needed to drive. Among his possessions that were missing were his car, mobile phone, tablet and computer.

Fr Hernandez was ordained in 2004 and served in several churches before arriving in his current post on the outskirts of Saltillo in 2014.

Several Catholic priests have been attacked in Mexico recently. Three priests were abducted in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz in late 2016; one was found alive, and two were found shot to death. Another priest was killed in the western state of Michoacan in September. At least 31 priests have been slain in Mexico since 2006.