Colombian Violence Claims Another Priest

Gunmen Slay Restrepo Cleric and 3 Companions

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BOGOTA, Colombia, SEPT. 29, 2002 ( Six gunmen opened fire and killed a parish priest and three of his companions in Restrepo, a town in the Cauca Valley.

The killing of Father Jorge Sánchez Ramírez on Friday continued the grim wave of killings of Catholic clerics in Colombia.

The attack took place after the 62-year-old priest returned by plane from Bogota, where he spent six days. He was greeted at the airport by Guillermo Peña, 19, the parish sacristan; sexton Gerardo Pava, 51; and soldier Frank Heider Rodríguez, 21, who had been the priest’s altar server and friend.

Father Sánchez and his companions were traveling back to the parish in a car when two vehicles carrying the attackers intercepted them.

A week earlier, another priest, Father José Luis Arroyave, who worked in the Medellin slums, was murdered.

News of the latest killing shocked Restrepo, where Father Sánchez, a native of Sonson, had arrived three years ago.

“He was all love — dedicated to his community. We cannot understand what could have happened,” said Sister Oliva, director of Our Lady of Consolation school.

Saddened inhabitants of the municipality had set their hopes on the projects directed by the priest.

No one knows what will happen now to the program of home construction for the poor, known as the Shrine of the Lord of Miracles. The program progressed recently and was to provide for the construction of 50 homes, according to the murdered priest’s wishes.

For the past few weeks Father Sánchez had been using Restrepo’s FM radio equipment to broadcast and evangelize residents. He did the same with a television channel, which he shared with National Geographic documentaries.

“Everyone listened to Father Jorge here in Restrepo. His messages were always directed to young people, to be chaste and responsible,” Sister Oliva recalled.

A police commander, Colonel Alvaro Caro, said that Father Sánchez was always strong when speaking out against violence, including the guerrillas’, but he did not think his life was in danger.

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