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Who were Fr. Javier and Fr. Joaquín?

Fr. Javier “Gallo” and Fr. Joaquín were beloved priests in the Rarámuri community, an Indigenous group in the Tarahumara region of Mexico. Both dedicated their lives to serving Native peoples and defending human rights in an area beset by organized crime and violence.

On June 20, 2022, an armed group led by local crime boss José Noriel Portillo Gil brought a tour guide named Pedro Palma into the church of San Francisco to be executed next to the altar. Fathers Javier and Joaquín attempted to defend him. All three were killed.

The murders were witnessed by two other members of the Jesuit community. Disregarding their pleas, Gil removed the bodies of the murdered men from the church. The bodies were found by authorities two days later—81 kilometers away from San Francisco Javier Parish. 


Fr. Gallo (center) wears a traditional Tarahumara crown to celebrate Christmas.
Fr. Joaquin celebrates his 50th year of ministry in Tarahumara.

Ongoing violence in Mexico

The killing of Fr. Javier, Fr. Joaquín, and Pedro Palma is not an isolated incident. It is emblematic of a persistent human rights crisis in Mexico and the failure of the nation’s militarized security model, according to the Jesuit human rights organization, Centro Prodh. Since the beginning of the so-called “war on drugs” in 2006, this crisis has generated horrific results: 35,000 homicides are reported each year; fewer than 1 in 10 homicides are solved; and more than 100,000 people have been disappeared.

Tarahumara is particularly affected by this violence given the strong presence of organized criminal groups—involved in drug trafficking, logging, mining and other activities—who engage in constant disputes for control of the area. In this context, several human rights defenders have been threatened, attacked and even killed.

Portillo Gil is a member of the Sinaloa Cartel, the largest and most powerful narcotrafficking organization in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to these three killings, he is responsible for the murder of an American teacher in 2018 and an activist in 2019, and there has been an active warrant for his arrest since 2018. Despite his notoriety, he has evaded prosecution by buying off and infiltrating the local authorities.

As a result, the Jesuit community in Tarahumara works in a context where organized crime headed by the very individual who killed their colleagues maintains de facto control over the area.

A monument in northern Mexico honors missing and murdered persons.

What are the Jesuits doing in response?

Since the killings of Fr. Javier, Fr. Joaquín and Pedro Palma, the murder investigation has not advanced. Despite knowledge of the killer’s identity, Mexican authorities have not arrested Portillo Gil. He remains at large and continues to threaten the witnesses of the murders. The Jesuits now fear retribution and continued violence at the hands of the Sinaloa cartel.

In response, Mexican and U.S. Jesuits are calling on Mexican authorities to address cartel violence and bring Portillo Gil to justice. They have also asked for  the protection of the Jesuit community in the area.

Read their statement

Mourners gather at the funeral service for Fr. Javier and Fr. Fr. Joaquín.