SÃO PAULO – As Brazil deals with a rising tide of violence during 2020, cases involving two missing priests have shocked the country.

On October 13, two priests went missing in different parts of the Brazil.

Father Adriano da Silva Barros, 36, left his parish in the city of Simonésia, in Minas Gerais State, early in the morning, in order to visit his ill mother, and failed to come back to celebrate the 7 p.m. Mass.

In João Pessoa, in Paraíba State, Father José Gilmar Moreira, 46, disappeared at 11:30 a.m., when he was driving to another district where he was scheduled to participate in a funeral. Shortly after that, he texted a friend for help.

On October 14, Barros’s partially burnt body was found in the nearby city of Manhumirim, with stab wounds.

Moreira was found by the police three days later, as he was walking by the road confused, weak and dehydrated after being left in another town by his kidnappers.

In both cases, the Church were quick to report their disappearance to the police and launch campaigns to publicize the missing priests.

“I noticed that Barros missed the night Mass and called him but there was no answer. The next day I reached out to his family and told our bishop and the police what was going on,” Father Júlio de Souza Pereira, his colleague in the city of Simonésia, told Crux.

A social media campaign – with Barros’s picture and Pereira’s phone number – went viral and people across the country tried to locate him. On the same day, the police was called by a resident of Manhumirim who had seen part of his land property on fire. The body was found there and identified.

A suspect in the killing was arrested in Manhumirim. His brother, also suspected to be involved in the crime, was found in the city of Rio de Janeiro two days later driving the priest’s car.

Initially, the suspect told the police that he had a love affair with the priest and tried to blackmail him for money. The agents later discovered that the suspect’s brother was a drug trafficker in Rio de Janeiro and had a huge debt with a local crime syndicate. They allegedly planned to rob the priest in order to pay the gang.

“After perpetrating such a monstrosity against Barros, the criminals also tried to calumniate him and the Church,” said Pereira.

“I knew him very well and he never did anything that could raise doubts on his commitment to his holy orders,” he added.

Moreira was also targeted for money.

The criminals intercepted his car and took him to a forested area in order to rob him. According to media reports, Moreira told the police that the kidnappers had mistaken him for an Uber driver. When they discovered he was a priest, they forced him to do several wire transfers, assuming that he controlled the parish’s bank account.

From the beginning of the robbery, Moreira hands were tied, and a hood was placed over his head so he couldn’t identify his attackers.

When he was released, the perpetrators just untied his hands and left him.

According to a story published by the news website G1, one of Moreira’s colleagues in the parish was accompanying the police officers that were looking for him and saw him walking by the road. Moreira was reportedly mentally confused after three days without any food and suffering from dehydration.

The next day, Moreira released a video on social media thanking God and “each one” of the people who prayed for him. “God delivered me from evil,” he said.

His parish refused to comment on the case, due to the ongoing police inquiry.

Both crimes are part of a wave of increasing violence in the South American country. After two successive years with a drop in the murder rate, violence in Brazil has been rising again since the beginning of 2020, according to an annual survey carried out by the Brazilian Forum of Public Security.

The study found that 25,712 people were killed in the first six months of 2020, 7.1 percent more than the number of homicides occurred in the same period of 2019.

In May, another priest, 72-year-old Father Antônio José Gabriel, was robbed and killed in Minas Gerais state.

“The priests’ deaths reflect the situation of general violence in the Brazilian society and in the world as a whole nowadays. There are victims from all segments, especially the poorest,” said Bishop Joel Portella Amado, the secretary-general of the Brazilian bishops’ conference.

“In the case of a priest, the news about it is more publicized because it’s a religious minister,” he told Crux.

He said the violence in the country means the clergy have to exercise “more caution” in their ministry, and also work to lessen “the mentality of violence” in Brazil.

“Priests have always faced risks in the fulfillment of their missions. There have been cases of priests who were killed when they answered to a call for confession or the last rites,” the bishop said.