MEXICO CITY — A priest involved with social and environmental causes in southern Mexico was threatened by gangs, the latest in a wave of increasing violence gripping the communities served by the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas.

Father Matías Rodríguez Jiménez was threatened by five individuals on motorcycles, who cut off the priest as he was driving to Chicomuselo, where he is parish priest, according to March 17 statements from the Catholic organization Pueblo Creyente (Chiapas Support Committee) and a collective of social and religious organizations.

The individuals struck the priest’s vehicle and warned: “We know who you are and what you do. Be careful.”

The statements added that Rodríguez said he had been spied on at his parish, including in his residence, since becoming pastor in Chicomuselo in 2020.

St. Peter and St. Paul Parish has a history of priests being involved in local issues, such as opposition to a Canadian-owned mine. Rodríguez also had confronted the issue of illegal alcohol sales, a problem in some Chiapas communities. A priest with knowledge of the area said the region has been rife with a violence between rival drug cartels.

“The situation concerns us because the life and integrity of our priest … is at risk,” said Pueblo Creyente, which was founded by the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, a champion of human rights in largely Indigenous Chiapas.

“Insecurity is increasing, and the persecution of human rights defenders is constantly worsening. As a parish, we have many struggles against everything that threatens the life of our communities such as alcoholism, mining (and) violence against women,” the statement said.

“We will continue denouncing and working in favor of life; we cannot remain silent in the face of the pain and suffering of our communities.”

The threats against Rodríguez come as violence rises in Chiapas. Priests attribute this to local political violence, increased drug cartel activities and the emergence of a group of motorcyclists known as “montenetos.” The motorcyclists circle communities in packs, intimidating residents and wielding weapons.

Jesuit Father Pedro Arriaga said he escaped a carjacking attempt in rural Chiapas, but other priests have been attacked on the highway.

An Indigenous catechist and community leader, Simón Pedro López, was shot by assailants riding motorcycles in the community of Simojovel, where paramilitary activity has a long history and a self-defense group subsequently formed.

A Dominican sister was shot in the leg in November 2020 while delivering relief to a community caught up in a land dispute.