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Catholic church in Santa Anita in Chihuahua, Mexico, after gang attack leaves extensive damageTwitter/Screenshot

(LifeSiteNews) — A Catholic church in Mexico has been left riddled with bullet holes after a gangland attack between rival factions broke out on June 5 , with three children later rescued from the church by a priest.

A post on Twitter showing the church in Santa Anita in Chihuahua, Mexico, covered with bullet holes reads, “This is how the church of the community of Santa Anita, in the municipality of Guachochi, Chihuahua, was shot.” 

A report by the Catholic News Agency stated that the attorney general’s office for the State of Chihuahua found at the scene “more than 700 bullet casings, a grenade, 19 cartridges, and a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, ‘completely charred.’” According to reports and photos of the damage, the destruction inside the church included damage to images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Anne, while outside the body of a decapitated man was found. 

The priest who found the three children inside the church, Father Enrique Urzúa, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral in Guachochi, arrived on the scene June 6 to find that the rival gangs, in addition to fighting each other, had “completely blasted” the church together with a room belonging to the first missionaries of the town. The priest concluded that the church had not simply been caught in crossfire, but that the gangs had “directly blasted the church, because there are too many bullets inside and out.”  

Urzúa then discovered the children abandoned inside, among them an infant. He related, “I came across three children who are without their parents and who were there, abandoned.” The children are aged eleven, nine, and just one year old. 

Remarking on what appears to be a direct attack on a Catholic church, the priest said, “I don’t think that an armed gang can have something against us, against the Church. I don’t want to think that, but this is the fact.” 

Urzúa drew attention to the fact that June 21 marks the one-year anniversary of the brutal murder of the Jesuit priests Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, lamenting the preponderance of violence in the area, which has rendered a “criminal presence… permanent.” 

In a letter to the gang members who perpetrated the destruction of the church and town, Urzúa wrote, “Brothers, listen to the voice of God! I am sure that the vast majority of you are baptized; we are brothers, and even though you are within the ranks of death, our Father and your Father offers you life.” The priest told the men he was praying “for the conversion of your hearts.” 

Mexico has recently seen some dramatic acts of violence against the Catholic Church. Just last month, two Catholic churches in Mexico were desecrated. One church’s tabernacle was broken into while a second church burnt overnight.  And on May 21, Archbishop Faustino Armendáriz of Durango, Mexico survived an attack by an 80-year-old man armed with a knife, following the murder of nine priests in Mexico since current Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office at the end of 2018, as reported by the Catholic News Agency.